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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
And a tricky, uncomfortable if appreciated American musical gets an exciting, stripped down new airing via a production that originated in London. If you can stomach the bitterness, you too will love this Donmar Warehouse revival which reduces the Alfred Uhry (book) & Jason Robert Brown (music & Lyrics) 1997 musical 's cast size and technical spectacle, but keeps the dramatic focus squarely where it logically falls: on the relationship between Leo Frank, the factory manager lynched for a crime he may not have committed, and Lucille, a stand-by-your-man wife if ever one existed.
Audience members who don’t buy romance blooming in the unlikely greenhouse of a Southern witch hunt, aren’t going to set a spell with convicted child murderers and their self-appointed avengers. Lara Pulver and the surprisingly cast T.R. Knight (late of TV’s Grey’s Anatomy) handle that storyline more than admirably. Yet the greater South’s post Civil War black eye is of just as substantial concern to director/choreographer Rob Ashford as the plight of the Franks. You feel the pride, the reverence, the conviction and the horror, whether in the sweep of Curt Hansen’s voice as a young soldier bidding his belle goodbye; or in a mother’s chilly courtroom eulogy to her slain child sung by Charlotte d’Amboise.
You see this play’s historical context and ambiguity in the rotting second level tapestry which, via Neil Austin’s lighting, is restored to a scene of Antebellum glory. And you see it in the proper carriage and so very disappointed eyes of Rose Sezniak who plays both the Civil War era lady, Lila, and Mary Phagan, the 13 year-old factory girl whose death touches off the maelstrom.
On the evening of Confederate Memorial Day 1913, Phagan’s body was found raped and strangled in the basement of the pencil factory where she worked. With a black night watchman and a Jewish plant manager to choose from as suspects, authorities pursued the latter: Leo Frank, an educated Northerner, every bit a fish out of water both for his Yankee sensibilities and for his cultural beliefs. Lucille, the Southern girl he married, considered fleeing but ended up staying and fighting for him. Frank’s conviction, in the face of largely circumstantial evidence, turned the case and into a nationwide cause célèbre, and a circus.
Uhry, himself a Southerner, and Brown paint this landscape and its population in varying shades of gray. The prosecutor Hugh Dorsey (Christian Hoff) is a politically minded, get-it-done sort of a guy. The local holyman (P.J. Griffith), is a crusader not above mob mentality. The Governor (Michael Berresse) seems principled but may like the ladies a bit much. The journalist (Berresse again) isn’t above stoking a tabloid-esque frenzy if it means alleviating boredom and making a name for himself.
With Ashford (the original assistant choreographer) at the helm, the production figures to move elegantly. And, indeed, the sizzling energy comes through whether in accusatory steps of a trio of factory girls to the waltz at the Governor’s mansion or the Bachinaalian frenzy that breaks out following the Frank verdict at the end of Act 1.
Parade is not, strictly speaking, a dance dependent show, but when you can plug people like d’Amboise and Berresse (they were the Chorus Line revival’s Zach and Cassie) into key supporting roles, the choreography figures to be in good hands. Hoff, Davis Gaines and the aforementioned Hansen are among the show’s stronger voices.
Slightly built, his hair darkened and his boyish features set in disbelief and defiance, Knight conveys an almost prissy outrage. The Jewish dialect is soon set aside and the early contempt he shows for Pulver’s Lucille feels more directed at the world than at a single disappointing human being. Indeed, Leo Frank’s casual snobbishness is more firmly rooted in his feelings of displacement: wrong wife, wrong city, this isn’t home. When Knight cuts loose in the vaguely vaudevillian "Come up to My Office,"” the interlude seems less dream sequence and more acutely possible. Beneath the chilly contempt, there is a boil. Maybe this man could have done this act. Pulver’s Lucille &mdash attractive if not glamorous, compromising if not a doormat &mdash leeches Frank’s stiffness right out of him. By the time we reach the Franks’ 11th hour duet "All the Wasted Time," this is a couple finally and convincingly in love.
Songs like "All the Wasted Time," "It Don’t Make Sense" and the percussion backed ode "The Old Red Hills of Home" showed in 1997 &mdash as they do now &mdash how much Jason Robert Brown has to offer the musical theater landscape. Balance the soaring ballads against an angry blues number like "Feel the Rain Fall"”(executed with latent fierceness by David St. Louis), and it’s easy to see how this score could nab a Tony. The composer’s subsequent scores (The Last Five Years, Songs for a New World, 13) while more personal, have been far less socially weighty.
This re-conceived Parade simultaneously zings the intellect, breaks the heart and roils the blood. A return to Broadway would seem every bit in order.
For Curtainup's review of the original production with a full song list go here.