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.)
Helen Hayes winner Christopher Bloch as always is superb in his many different roles including the old Confederate soldier and the Judge at Frank's trial. His duet "The Glory" as Judge Roan with the Solicitor General Hugh Dorsey (so well done by James Konicek).
Baltimore native Lauren Williams is so believable as the victim Mary Phagan. Sandy Bainum plays Mary's mother Fanny and gets to sing the gorgeous waltz "My Child Will Forgive Me" while on the witness stand.
Mary Phagan's young friend Frankie Epps is played a very talentEd Matthew John Kacergis who has two nice numbers "The Picture Show" and "It Don't Make Sense to Me" sung at the funeral, a haunting melody that still stays with me. Another terrific number "The Factory Girls" is sung by a trio of Mary's friends at the trial, Iola Stover (Bligh Voth), Essie (Erin Driscoll), and Monteen (Carolyn Agan). Another beautiful melody.
Chris Sizemore has the fun role of journalist Britt Craig and he nails "Real Big News". (The Hearst Corporation had just purchased the Atlanta newspaper that sensationalized the Leo Frank story around the world.)
Jim Conley, the janitor, is played by the wonderful Kevin McAllister, has two great numbers, "That What He Said" and "Blues: Feel the Rain".
Wilt Gartshore was a part of the original Broadway cast and here plays Tom Watson, a politician and newspaper owner and sings "Hammer of Justice" at the trial.
The always terrific Stephen F. Schmidt plays Governor John Slaton who was expected to be the next Senator from Georgia until he made some unpopular decisions about Frank's sentence.
Director Stephen Rayne deserves kudos for a production so fabulous, that at least in this critic's mind, it deserves a transfer to Broadway.
There's also great choreography by Karma Camp.
It was the Frank trial that led to the creation of the Anti-Defamation League as well as the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan.
How ironic that Parade with its many Confederate flags furling is playing at the historic Ford's Theatre with President Lincoln's box overseeing the production.
Finally, I would like to dedicate this review to the composer's father, the late Stuart Mark Brown. I met Stuart for the first time at Joe's Pub in May, 1999 where his son Jason was performing. With his wife Debbie, we went to see Brown's wonderful Off-Broadway musical "The Last Five Years" which starred Norbert Leo Butz and Sherrie Rene Scott.
Stuart, you are greatly missed.
Parade ends its run Oct. 30 and is a co-production with Theatre J.
For tickets, call 800-982-2787 or visit www.fords.org.
Euan Morton will not be performing Friday night. He had a prior commitment to perform in a cabaret setting at the Kennedy Center Friday night @ 7:30 p.m. I would not miss this show. For tickets, call 202-467-4600
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Kevin McAllister as Jim Conley and Cast
Euan Morton as Leo Frank