BWW Review: Opera House Players' PARADE
Some musicals make you laugh, some musicals make you cry, and others make you want to get up and dance in the aisles. But on a rare occasion, a musical comes around that entertains while making the audience sit up, take notice, and think. This is the case with the Opera House Players' final production ever in the Broad Brook Opera House - Jason Robert Brown and Alfred Uhry's PARADE.
PARADE is not necessarily a feel-good musical, but it is a feel-something-deeply musical. Set in Atlanta, Georgia (which happens to be this reviewer's birthplace) in 1913 during a time between wars when the people of Georgia continued to nurse the wounds of the Civil War while at the same trying to rebuild and define themselves for a new generation. This true story centers around Leo Frank (Carl Cannella), a New York-born Jewish businessman who finds himself unjustly accused of the murder of a young girl who works at the National Pencil Factory where he is the supervisor. The musical begins on Confederate Memorial Day (which provides the parade of the title) and takes place over the two years between the arrest, conviction, commutation, and eventual lynching of the innocent Mr. Frank. The plot focuses primarily on the relationship between Leo and his stalwart and smart wife, Lucille (Lindsay Botticello) and the various citizens of Atlanta who, for the most part, see Leo as guilty. In a way, these people turn Leo into a representation of the entire North, for whom they still harbor resentment and hate for the outcome of the Civil War.
As mentioned, PARADE is not an easy show to watch, but one that is extremely thought-provoking and thrilling to see come to life on stage. For the Opera House Players' production, director Sharon FitzHenry creates a picture of the old south that is both nostalgic and foreboding. Her direction of the sizeable cast on the small (but effective) Opera House stage is quite strong. The cast, overall, does a good job telling this difficult tale, and delivers Jason Robert Brown's beautiful score with skill. Carl Cannella's Leo is an appropriate mix of terse businessman and neurotic husband, and he is quite believable as this wrongfully convicted man. Ms. FitzHenry's decision to keep Leo on stage the entire show (in his jail cell) punctuated all that he was going through while awaiting his fate. A number of other standout performances are also worth noting including Jermaine Woodard's portrayal of Jim Conley. On the night I attended, Mr. Woodard not only portrayed Jim, but applied his significant talents to the roles of Newt Lee and Riley when another cast member suddenly took ill. Michael King's portrayal of journalist Britt Craig and Tim Reilly's portrayal of Hugh Dorsey, are also both strong and worthy of note.
For me, the real highlight of Broad Brook's PARADE is Lindsay Botticello's brilliant portrayal of Lucille Frank. Ms. Botticello shows off a gorgeous voice in each of Lucille's musical numbers, but more importantly is fierce and relentless in her determination to help free her husband. And, speaking as a born and bred Georgia boy, Ms. Botticello's Georgia accent is spot on as well. PARADE, overall, is worth seeing, but especially for the opportunity to see her tour-de-force performance. Believe me - you don't want to miss it.
The creative design of PARADE at Broad Brook is also very effective. Francisco Aguas' simple set serves as a constant reminder of Leo Frank's fate, with a large, foreboding tree always present, pointing to the role it will play in the musical's final, and most harrowing closing scenes. Bill Martin's music direction is strong and he leads a small but mighty orchestra in bringing Jason Robert Brown's music to vivid life.
PARADE is a show that theater companies just don't produce very often - most likely due to its challenging subject matter. But, with a brilliant and beautiful score and important story to be told, it deserves to be seen. As Director Sharon FitzHenry puts in her program notes "Not all theatre is easy...this show explores hard issues, and sometimes those make powerful theatre." And powerful theatre is what you get with the Opera House Players' PARADE. And, as mentioned, this will be the last musical produced by the group in the historic Broad Brook Opera House before they move to a new space in Enfield, CT, and it serves to deliver a very strong finish to their 15 years of residence in that space.