Somehow, between its 1998 world premiere and its current production at the Mark Taper Forum, Parade has become timely. You see them on TV sometimeswild-eyed protestors who angrily proclaim, "This is not my America!" It probably should have been expected when we elected a president whose very campaign slogan was "Change." Surely, some people wouldn't want change; some people would be happy with the way it wasor rather, their idealized view of the way it was. It doesn't matter that the America that they hold so dear probably never really existed; what is important is that the way things are heading isn't anything like their vision of how America was in the good old days, and they're going to rail against change with every breath they've got.
The Cast of Parade
And they are what Parade is about. It isn't about the injustice done to Leo Frankrailroaded in 1913 Atlanta for a murder he didn't commit; it isn't about anti-Semitism, or anti-Northern sentiment; it isn't about outrage over the death of a 13-year-old girl; it isn't about the late-blossoming relationship between Leo and his wife, who only truly came together after his conviction (although, yes, it is about all of those things). But what it's really about, more than anything else, is 1913 Atlanta not being the Atlanta the people wanted it to be. It's about an entire populace wanting their young women to be dainty southern belles in hoop skirts, not factory workers earning 10 cents an hourand certainly not factory workers making real profits not for a son of Georgia, but for a college-educated Jew from Brooklyn. As Parade is quick to point out, this city had a parade on Confederate Memorial Day, happily celebrating losing a war. But of course, the people aren't celebrating a loss, but clinging to a nearly bygone way of life. And up against that, Leo Frank didn't stand a chance.
Director Rob Ashford, who has imported his scaled-down Donmar Warehouse production, makes this even more explicit than Alfred Uhry's book and Jason Robert Brown's score already made it. A Civil War era southern belle glides onstage when there's a victory for Old Atlantashe's a visual reminder of what's really at stake here; and similar work is done with a tattered picture dominating the upstage wall.
The small production, and concomitantly scaled-down cast, reaps some surprising benefits. For example, "A Rumblin' and a Rollin'" at the top of the second act has been reduced from a quartet to a duet (largely because three of the four characters in it are now played by the same actor), and, as a more focused number, it's much more effective. This was probably Ashford's intent for the entire productioncut out a lot of the sparkly distractions and be left with a slimmed-down, razor-sharp Parade.
Where things appear to have gotten away from him, though, is that his cast is not quite so sharp. It's almost expected that T.R. Knight, an actor not known for his musical ability, would talk-sing his way through much of the role of Leo Frank. And that turns out not to be much of a problem, because his nebbishy Leo seems too repressed to actually let loose and sing for the bulk of the show. And when he does let loose in "Come Up to My Office," he commits to the number so much physically, it isn't a problem that the vocal isn't entirely there. It is problematic, though, in his second act duets with Lara Pulver as his wife, Lucillestunning counterpoints disappear when there's only one person actually singing. Michael Berresse also talk-sings in the role of the reporterand when he tries to sing the role of the Governor while dancing, we mostly hear him panting for breath. Charlotte d'Amboise is splendid as the Governor's wife, but in her larger role of the mother of the murdered girl, she fails to score with either characterization or singing. Curt Hansen sings quite well as the young soldier who opens the show and as Mary's friend Frankie, but his movement and mannerisms as Frankie seem both too old for the character and too overwrought.
This isn't to say that this Parade is a disasterfar from it. Many individual numbers hit, several powerfully so. Every character's journey from beginning to end is clearly charted; and how all of the journeys add together to create Ashford's vision of Leo Frank's unavoidable destiny is well-presented. But, with a cast more suited to the roles they were playing, this could've been a brilliant production of a musical, rather than just an interesting take on the show.
Parade runs at the Mark Taper Forum through November 15, 2009. For tickets and information see www.centertheatregroup.org.
Center Theatre Group -- Michael Ritchie, Artistic Director; Charles Dillingham, Managing Director; Gordon Davidson, Founding Artistic Director -- present the Donmar Warehouse production of Parade. Book by Alfred Uhry; Music and Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown; Co-Conceived by Harold Prince. Set and Costume Design Christopher Oram; Lighting Design Neil Austin; Sound Design Jon Weston; Musical Director Tom Murray; Orchestrator David Cullen; Original London Sound Design Nick Lidster & Terry Jardine for Autograph; Associate Choreographer Chris Bailey; Wigs and Hair Carol F. Doran; Associate Producer Neel Keller; Casting Erika Sellin; Production Stage Manager David S. Franklin. Directed and Choreographed by Rob Ashford.