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BWW Reviews: PARADE Captivates at Kensington Arts Theatre

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What do you do when an unsettling murder rocks your town, and all its proud citizens are calling for blood? In PARADE, the answer is simple: pin it on someone who's different, and do whatever you possibly can to make it convincing, whether or not it's actually true.

Set between 1913-1915 in Atlanta, Kensington Arts Theatre's PARADE tells the story of Leo Frank, a quiet Jewish factory superintendent who is suddenly charged with the murder of one of his 13 year-old factory girls. As the town reels in shock, the state's anxious governor instructs the District Attorney to get a conviction, no matter what. The hunt for "justice" quickly becomes a sensation, leaving Leo and his wife Lucille to fight for the truth against insurmountable odds and their own pride.

For those unfamiliar with Jason Robert Brown, who also wrote LAST FIVE YEARS and SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD, he is rarely ever one for brevity in his work. However, the notes and sweeping nature of his songs in PARADE are a singer's dream, and KAT's theatre is a great place to house his work.

The challenge for a few actors seemed to be keeping up with the lyrics, while still maintaining an animated, engaged character. It's a tough balance, especially with faster songs. There were also several times where the progression of the show made it hard for the audience to know when to applaud, either from musical cues or enthusiastic entrances.

The set for this production is relatively simple. Flags drape over two rounded platforms, with a bridge in between them. The staging bounces between rousing crowd numbers all over the stage, to individual "soap box" deliveries from various locations. It is straightforward, balanced, and effective. One notable scene comes at the beginning, as Leo is overwhelmed by townspeople in "How Can I Call This Home?"

While I could point out a few sound issues, and group notes that could have ended more in sync, that would take away from the amazing quality of the voices and performances in this show.

Bobby Libby (Leo Frank) is incredible in this role. Given the events of the show, it's initially very difficult to like his character. However, by the end of the production, the breadth of emotion Libby showed in songs like "It's Hard to Speak My Heart" and "All the Wasted Time" was captivating. Emily Zickler (Lucille Frank) does an excellent job of portraying a proud Southern woman fighting against everything she grew up with, and her voice is wonderful.

Supporting actors Michael Nansel (Old Soldier/Hugh Dorsey) and Harrison Smith (Frankie/Young Soldier) started the show off on a very high note, each carrying powerhouse voices. Nansel as Dorsey is a fantastic villain, and commands the stage every second he is singing. Smith portrays Frankie very well, walking the line between innocent teenager and vengeful townsperson with ease.

The one glaring problem with this production falls to the costuming, namely for the men who play multiple parts. On more than one occasion, it was hard to tell the difference between the male characters, to the point where I got two of them confused, affecting my understanding of the plot in the second act. This could also be a lack of a character differentiation, but the costuming choices don't help. A wig, mustache, or addition of accessories would have assisted immensely.

Other notable performances include Eben K. Logan (Minnie), whose stellar voice captured everyone in the audience during her duet at the top of Act 2. Stephen P. Yednock also does a great job balancing three characters: an intimidating police detective, the worst lawyer imaginable, and a guard who provides pretty much the only (much needed) comic relief of the show.

Aside from a few minor issues, Kensington Arts Theatre has a wonderful production. While the nature and occurrences of the show itself will undoubtedly leave you frustrated, the performances within this production will make you want to see these actors again and again.

PARADE runs through November 16th. For more information, visit KAT's website at www.katonline.org.


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