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Los Angeles Theater Review – Parade 

 

RAIN ON MY PARADE

 

picture - ParadeTheater Review

by Harvey Perr

published October 9, 2009

 

Parade

now playing in Los Angeles at the Mark Taper Forum

through November 15

 

Alfred Uhry – who, as anyone who knows Driving Miss Daisy or The Last Days Of Ballyhoo can guess, has a keen and unique way with the cultural life of Jews in the Deep South – is absolutely the perfect choice to re-tell the tragic true story of Leo Frank. Frank, a transplanted Brooklyn Jew who became the superintendent of a pencil factory in Atlanta, Georgia circa 1913, was accused, persecuted, tried and found guilty of murdering a young girl, Mary Phagan, while a Confederate Memorial Day Parade passed by within walking distance from the factory.

 

Jason Robert Brown is clearly a composer with a rich and loving knowledge of America’s musical heritage who could create a contemporary score that would echo the sounds of the blues and the ragtime two-steps and the anthems and the hymns of a bygone era that would also convey the rhythms of parades strutting by in time-step with the rhythms of internal tragedy. 

 

picture - ParadeBoth men have done exactly what one might have expected of them. The musical drama Parade that they have collaborated on has both a strong and powerfully persuasive book and a score that is, in turn, evocative, poignant, sad, joyous, and downright gorgeous.

 

And the man who has co-conceived the show with them, Harold Prince, has almost certainly given the drama its central image of the ghost-like Southern belle who represents the faded memory of the grace the South went to war to protect; I say certainly because it is reminiscent of a similarly striking image which Prince created for the original production of Follies.

 

And, while the book and score won the praise and the honors they richly deserved, the original production never really captured the hearts and minds of American audiences, and so its extraordinarily talented choreographer, Rob Ashford – his second-act ballet in the failed Cry Baby was a masterpiece of dance invention – re-worked it and took it to London’s estimable Donmar Warehouse, where it finally attracted popular as well as

critical acclaim.

 

And this is the production – the exquisite set and costumes of Christopher Oram, the elegant and haunting lighting of Neil Austin, David Cullen’s superb orchestrations under the triumphant musical direction of Tom Murray – that has finally come here to the Mark Taper Forum.

 

And when Lara Pulver – in the pivotal role of Frank’s wife Lucille – lifts her lovely voice in the soaring “You Don’t Know This Man,” it would seem as if the entire journey was worth this magical moment. Why then, one can’t help but ask, doesn’t the show take hold and create epiphany after epiphany?

 

picture - ParadeDamned if this reviewer can give you the answer, but Parade remains, after three exhausting hours, a piece of musical theater that is more to be admired than enjoyed.  Is it because the cultural asides, normally tucked away in the nooks and crannies of most musicals, insist on taking center stage? And is it because they are more interesting and more satisfying than the drama that is supposedly at its center? Is it that it stubbornly refuses to be conventional in any way? Is it because, once we’re drawn into a moment, it leaps into another infinitely less urgent or immediate interlude? Has the performance of the Los Angeles cast not jelled in the way it must have at the Donmar (the same production without the same cast is not necessarily the same production)? Would Michael Berresse, whose presence is almost always charged with electricity, have been a more interesting choice for the part of Leo Frank instead of the varied small roles he’s been assigned? Is it because T.R. Knight (as Frank), who is awfully good, never seems “different” enough? Or because he is asked to keep his interior fires banked? Is it that the brutality at the core of the real story is finally too much to bear on any musical that is not a full-fleged opera?

 

Still, there is no denying that there is a masterpiece hiding within the longeurs of Parade. And the highlights are there: the badgering fantasy sequence where Leo Frank reveals a side we never see but once in “Come Up to My Office;” the duet, “A Rumblin’ and a Rollin’,” between two servants beautifully and wittily performed by Deidre Henry and David St. Louis; the gently elegant choreography which punctuates Michael Berresse’s “Pretty Music;” the telling fishing sequence between the prosecutor Hugh Dorsey (Christian Huff) and Judge Roan (Davis Gaines); the touching and sensual final meeting between Leo and Lucille; the disturbing floating-through picture of that Southern belle.

 

There are few things sadder in the theater than to announce that a work of serious artistic intent, which Parade lays claim to, is, alas, something of a failure. But it is also true that a grand failure is often worth a thousand small successes.

 

harveyperr @ stageandcinema.com

 

 
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