BWW Review: PARADE is Breathtaking at The Merry – Go –Round Playhouse

BWW Review: PARADE is Breathtaking at The Merry – Go –Round Playhouse
Kristin Wetherington and Aaron Galligan-Stierle in the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival's production of Parade. Photo by Ron Heerkens Jr.

Chilling, breathtaking, and astonishing are just some of the words that come to mind after seeing the latest production playing at The Merry- Go- Round Playhouse. Under the meticulous and masterful direction of Brett Smock, Parade is stunning audiences at the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival.

This musical features a Tony Award-winning book by Alfred Uhry along with Tony Award-winning music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown. This serious musical, based on real events, dramatizes the 1913 trial of Leo Frank (Aaron Galligan-Stierle), a Jewish factory manager accused of raping and murdering his employee, thirteen-year-old Mary Phagan (Shannon Beel) in Georgia. The trial proved to be a media event, and it stirred a lot of anger and prejudice within the community. Mr. Frank originally received the death sentence, which was changed to life in prison. This change led some members of the community to take matters of "justice" into their own hands, which has huge consequences for Mr. Frank and his dutiful wife Lucille (Kristin Wetherington).

The artistic elements of the show are some of the best that have graced the stage at the Merry - Go - Round Playhouse. The set by Czerton Lim evokes power and intensity before the show even begins. The audience sees chairs hanging from the rafters, which are constantly carried in and out by the performers. The lighting by Jose Santiago adds another layer of intensity to the thought-provoking production, while the costumes by Tiffany Howard and wig designs by Al Annotto help bring the complex characters to life within a specific historical era. This production of Parade is brilliantly done. Although it's a large-scale production, the staging is still very intimate, which makes it all the more absorbing. It is truly special.

BWW Review: PARADE is Breathtaking at The Merry – Go –Round Playhouse
Scott Guthrie and the company of the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival's production of Parade. Photo by Ron Heerkens Jr.

The large committed cast is truly phenomenal.

Aaron Galligan-Stierle, as Leo Frank, is consistently intense and highly believable. Galligan-Stierle portrayal of Leo Frank sends chills down the spine, especially as he sings the emotional song "It's Hard to Speak My Heart." He captures the perceived crudeness and uneasy feeling that Leo Frank gives off to the factory girls in "Come Up to My Office."

Kristin Wetherington, as Lucille Frank, is truly stunning. She shows off her passionate and powerful vocals at every moment, and uses this passion to convey Lucille's devotion to her husband. Her devotion to the role is evident. Her well-trained voice shines in "You Don't Know This Man" and "Do It Alone" as she passionately belts out the powerful lyrics. Her duets with Aaron Galligan-Stierle, namely "This is Not Over Yet" and "All the Wasted Time," are equally powerful and passionate. They represent some of the best moments on stage.

Shannon Beel, as Mary Phagan, is incredibly likeable. She captures the wide-eyed innocent girl beautifully. She charms the audience in "The Picture Show" along with Brendan Jacob Smith playing her friend Frankie Epps. Speaking of Brendan Jacob Smith, he oozes confidence in his numbers "There is a Fountain/It Don't Make Sense" and "Frankie's Testimony." He's highly memorable.

Other memorable performances include Marcus Jordan as Newt Lee in the "Interrogation Sequence," and Alexander Zenoz as the Young Soldier opening the show with the breathtaking number "The Old Red Hills of Home" along with David Atkinson as the old soldier. Jamison Stern, as Hugh Dorsey, makes his mark with "Twenty Miles from Marietta." Likewise, Dave Shoonover, as Governor John Slaton, performs a lovely rendition of "Pretty Music" while Scott Guthrie as Britt Craig shows off in "Real Big News;" Erin Katzkar, as Mrs. Phagan, sings an emotional rendition of "My Child Will Forgive Me." Banji Aborisade and Crystal Sha'nae charm in "A Rumblin' and a Rollin'." Fergie L. Philippe, as Jim Conley, is confident and intense while Jake Mills is most memorable as Tom Watson. Finally, the talented Emma DeGroff, Madeline VanRiper, and Adeline Whitener portray the Factory Girls with such maturity and professionalism.

Brett Smock has brought a show that is powerful, passionate, and stunning to Central New York audiences. There is no doubt that Parade has exquisite and gorgeous music by the incomparable Jason Robert Brown. That music beautifully played by the live orchestra under the musical direction of Jeff Theiss. But this production doesn't just feature amazing songs. It showcases a talented cast that captures the intensity of the story perfectly. Parade does not disappoint. It is a definite must-see at the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse, a theatre that once again proves that they definitely know how to put on a show that surpasses some current Broadway productions. It truly is Broadway in the Finger Lakes.

Running Time: Approximately Two hours and twenty minutes with one twenty-minute intermission.

Parade runs through July 26, 2017 at The Merry - Go - Round Playhouse as part of the 2017 Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival. For tickets and information on Parade and other upcoming productions at The Merry-Go-Round Playhouse click here, or call (315)255-1785 (toll free 1-800-457-8897).

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From This Author Natasha Ashley

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