BWW Reviews: PARADE - Do Not Let This Tony-Winning Musical Pass You By
Who, but playwright Alfred Uhry, would write the book of a musical that deals with the true story of a Jewish "immigrant" from Brooklyn named Leo Frank, who moves to Atlanta, marries a "southern" Jewess (Lucille) who more than likely had a Christmas tree (see Uhry's Last Night of Ballyhoo), and on Confederate Memorial Day in 1913 (yes they used to celebrate the loss of the Civil War) Frank, the superintendant of a pencil factory, is charged in the rape and murder of 13 year old factory worker Mary Phagan, whose body is found in the basement of the factory.
In fact it was Uhry's Great Uncle Sigmund Montag (his mother's uncle) who owned the National Pencil Factory and was Frank's employer. Frank's wife Lucille was even a friend of his grandmother.
The legendary Hal Prince was co-creator and set to direct the piece. He sought out a talented 23 year-old composer/musician named Jason Robert Brown to work with Prince and Uhry on what he called "an American opera." How did he get to Brown? Prince's daughter Daisy had direcTed Brown's Songs for a New World at Off-Broadway's WPA Theatre. (And if you've never heard it, get the CD.) It took about five years and various workshops and readings to finally make it to Broadway and Lincoln Center where it opened December 17, 1998.
The musical received great reviews from USA Today, New York Magazine, and the New York Post. Due in part to the tepid review in the New York Times and being co-produced by the Canadian company Livent under Garth Drabinsky (Ragtime) which was having money problems, Parade ended its brief engagement at Lincoln Center on February 28, 1999. Thankfully, the entire cast recorded the show the day after it closed, on March 1, 1999 with composer Brown on the piano.
When Frank is about to be hung and sings the Jewish prayer, "The Sh'ma", the melody is exactly the same as the show's opening number sung by a young Confederate soldier "The Old Red Hills of Home", a stroke of genius by composer Brown.
For the Tony Awards, I recall the two co-stars Brent Carver and Carolee Carmello performing the gorgeous duet "All the Wasted Time". The show garnered two Tony Awards, one for Brown for his score, and one for Uhry for his book.
I was so fortunate to see the original Broadway cast. I have listened to the cast album continuously. But for a well-down community theater production at Baltimore's Fells Point Corner Theater a few years ago, this is the first time I've seen the show done professionally since 1999.
When I first heard Tony nominee Euan Morton (for Broadway's Taboo) was going to play Frank, I was a little shocked. Could the Scotsman pull this off? But after seeing him in the Signature Theatre production of Chess, I knew he could and he has!!
Morton has done a masterful job in the role of Frank. He combines Frank's naiveté, obstinacy (I'll be out of jail shortly he promised), tenderness and power...not too easy to accomplish. He belts out "How Can I Call This Home?" Frank describes how tough it is for him to adjust to life in Atlanta through Brown's great lyrics: "I'm trapped inside this life, and trapped beside a wife, Who would prefer that I'd say 'Howdy', not 'Shalom', Well, I'm sorry, Lucille, But I feel what I feel, And this place is surreal, So how can I call this home?"
Morton brings down the house during his vaudeville style song and dance "Come Up to My Office". He brings such excitement and joy to his "This is Not Over Yet" which he sings with the marvelous Jenny Fellner as Lucille. Fellner shines in "You Don't Know this Man". But the song that will bring the tissues out, is the duet sing "All the Wasted Time". I was mesmerized.
Fellner has been playing Nessa in the Broadway production of Wicked and was allowed this short stay in DC. I also recall her terrific run as "Sophie" in the Broadway production of Mamma Mia! But I believe it is this role that will catapult her towards stardom. (Has anyone else noticed the Mamma Mia! connection? Fellner played the daughter in Mamma Mia! while Carolee Carmello (the original "Lucille" played Sophie's mother, Donna, in the Broadway hit which just celebrated ten years on Broadway.)