Saturday, October 3, 2009

review - Parade

book by Alfred Uhry; music by Jason Robert Brown
directed by Rob Ashford
Mark Taper Forum
through November 15
In 1998 when Jason Robert Brown won a Tony Award for the score of this unusually provocative musical, the opulent Broadway production closed to critical acclaim, but due to excessive costs, the show remained inaccessible until the Donmar Warehouse resurrected it and produced this tight - without all the frills -superlative mounting, now on view at the Mark Taper Forum.
Most remarkable about Parade is the combined brilliance of the book and music in capturing the in depth texture/mood of every emotion: fear, hope, pain or joy. In Atlanta, Georgia, circa 1913 a memorial day parade symbolizes celebration, but underneath a truly artificial sense of freedom there lies festering something undeniably evil that is destined to explode. Leo Frank and wife Lucille are at odds in their marriage. He's a Northern Jew; she a Southern Jew. He feels the great gap that exists between them. Guilty or not guilty of the murder of Mary Phagan - a crime of which he is accused, tried and convicted - he remains, in every social encounter, the constant outsider. Comparisons will be made to Ragtime because of the time period in which both musicals take place, but Ragtime concerns itself more deeply with the black experience. It becomes quite obvious that in Parade's perspective of the deep South, not only blacks are victims, but anyone who does not fit into Atlanta's manufactured world of pretentious perfection. If the Ku Klux Klan are not lynching blacks, then they'll go after Jews, perverts, sodomites or anyone else that veers even 10 degrees away from their cockeyed morality. Post Civil War changes may be in effect, but bad habits die hard.
In a work of such complex proportions, the staging must be fluid and clear. Ashford has directed with ultimate precision, as the entire Taper space is utilized to grande advantage. The ensemble of actors is superb with T.R. Knight magnificently centered as Leo Frank. We never really know this complicated man, and Knight keeps us guessing. Lara Pulver is sheer joy as the brave Lucille, never giving up in the face of defeat. David St. Louis makes a riveting statement of unwavering determination as Jim Conley ("Blues: Feel the Rain Fall") and it is admirable to see Charlotte d'Amboise and Davis Gaines, both musical stars in other shows, playing a variety of smaller roles so skillfully in the large ensemble.
Stark set design by Christopher Oram with a domineering political painting on the upper level adds a sense of unrelenting control and power to the all-encompassing powerhouse that is
this Parade.
5 out of 5 stars


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