Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

R-S Theatrics

Also see Richard's review of Entertaining Mr. Sloane

Pete Winfrey and Jennifer Theby-Quinn
An outstanding ensemble and precise direction make for a great revival of Alfred Uhry and Jason Robert Brown's musical about scandal in the Atlanta of a hundred years ago. The author of Driving Miss Daisy won a Best Book Tony for his libretto, and Brown won for Best Original Score. The overall effect in this local premiere is one of great love and beauty and playfulness, carefully braided together with the worst ugliness of the human soul.

Parade only ran three and a half months on Broadway, including previews, in 1998. Not being a very flattering portrait of human nature, I suppose. As a musical comedy, it often violates the "feel good" fascism of the genre, subverting the cheerful chorus numbers into actual fascism itself. But it's still a lot of fun to watch.

At R-S Theatrics, the ingenuity of the show flourishes thanks to director Christina Rios, who's found a uniformly gifted bunch of actors and singers and dancers, all of whom seem to believe in the work as fervently as she does. Maria Straub adds the surprisingly sharp, high-stepping choreography, and Leah Luciano keeps the band and the vocal arrangements almost entirely on track. In their hands, the play's more carnivorous moments are stunning to behold, and the happy, loving ones just fly up to heaven.

A pair of young actors (Pete Winfrey and Jen Theby-Quinn) play Leo and Lucille Frank, a newlywed Jewish couple in the deep South: she's a native of Atlanta, and he's from Brooklyn; she has a huge reserve of irony on-hand to deal with the prejudice all around, while his only coping mechanism seems to be a sort of righteous contempt for knee-jerk anti-Semitism. Both Mr. Winfrey and Ms. Theby-Quinn are extremely capable performers.

Then things go horribly wrong and the young man is brought to trial on a murder charge. That's where Parade goes from mainstream entertainment to an often brutal storm of heartbreak and salaciousness. In spite of that, Ken Haller is strangely, almost unfathomably likable as an ambitious district attorney—making the whole trial even more nightmarish.

A series of witnesses, including Kay Love, deeply affecting as the victim's mother, create an impossible, alternate reality which the young Jewish husband and wife must reluctantly inhabit as well. Throughout, Bradley J. Behrmann is perfect as the all-too-eager 1913-style reporter Britt Craig, enthusiastically fanning the flames of interest in the case.

As Lucille, Ms. Theby-Quinn has managed once again to achieve a rich performance, going from fearful bride in act one to an often amusing avenging belle in act two. She presents her character as nothing less than a mortal woman, horrified by towering events, who somehow scrapes together the brains and courage to grapple with a "red-state" zeitgeist that's dogged her all her life. Finally, she's ready to put all her observations to work, and save her husband from a death sentence. It's pretty thrilling.

Mr. Winfrey, as the accused Leo, is highly watchable too: fussy and disdainful and old-fashioned, even in his New York sophistication. Winfrey adds a great element of uncertainty in the courtroom scenes, especially in a fantasy "song and dance" where the prosecution presents him as a sex-crazed maniac. Much later, the young husband and wife will spend an idyllic afternoon in rural Georgia, for a wonderful emotional payoff as their ordeal nears an end.

Additional notes: frequent leading lady Caitlin Mickey is politely in the background here, displaying great skill and unselfishness in service of a really worthwhile project. The cast boasts a long list of polished performers including Beth Wickenhauser, Zach Wachter, and Shawn Bowers, among others. A remarkable achievement by all.

There's a simulation of sorts in the last five minutes that seems a little bogus—but I'm not sure how to finesse it under the given circumstances. And by that point in the show, you've probably already fallen in love with it all anyway.

Entirely off-stage, the landlord of the Ivory got off to an rocky start with local groups several years ago, in spite of a beautiful conversion that turned a big old church into a splendid performance space. But, happily, the property owner has found a great interface with producers in a trusted triumvirate of local theater people: Mike Hesser, and Jim and Bonnie Kimker. After years of doubt, the Ivory may just survive after all.

Parade continues through September 15, 2013, at the Ivory Theatre (at 7620 Michigan Ave., east of the Loughborough and Germania exits on I-55). For more information visit www.r-stheatrics.com or call (314) 456-0071.

Leo Frank: Pete Winfrey
Lucille Frank: Jennifer Theby-Quinn
Mary Phagan: Beth Wickenhauser
Jim Conley: Marshall Jennings
Hugh Dorsey: Ken Haller
Governor Jack Slaton: Kevin Hester
Iola Stover: Caitlin Mickey
Monteen: Macia Noorman
Essie: Maggie Murphy
Newt Lee: Shawn Bowers
Minnie McKnight: Alexis Coleman
Mrs. Phagan/Sally Slaton: Kay Love
Young Soldier/Frankie Epps/Guard: Zach Wachter
Old Soldier/Judge Roan: Derick J. Smith
Britt Craig/Mr. Peavy: Bradley J. Behrmann
Officer Starnes/Tom Watson: Robert Breig
Officer Ivey/Luther Rosser/Guard: GP Hunsaker

Piano: Leah Luciano
Violin: Connor Coffey
French horn: Matthew Geary
Clarinet: Michael Montague
Percussion: Dustin Shapiro
Bass: Charles Schuder

Production Staff
Director: Christina Rios
Musical Director: Leah Luciano
Assistant Director/Choreographer: Maria I. Straub
Stage Manager: Sarah Lynne Holt
Costume Design: Elizabeth Henning
Wardrobe Head/Dialect Coach: Nikki Lott
Wardrobe Intern: Ruth Schmalenberger
Lighting Design: Nathan Schroeder
Sound Design: Mark Kelley
Sound Board Operator: Maggy Bort
Production Managers: Mark Kelley and Heather Tucker
Graphic Designer: Michael Young
Production Intern: Julia Germeroth

Photo: Michael Young

-- Richard T. Green

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