Sunday, October 11, 2009

STAGE: Parade

At the enthusiastic recommendation of neighbors, we decided to check out Parade at the Mark Taper. While the notion of a musical about a lynching doesn't sound very auspicious, it turns out to be surprisingly excellent theatre with some beautiful numbers in it. The story is lifted fairly intact from an actual historical incident in 1913 Atlanta, the drummed-up conviction of Leo Frank, a Jewish New Yorker factory boss, for the murder of a young teenage girl. The case proved to be a lightning rod for festering southern resentment of northern interference, bubbling out in vicious xenophobia. While the courtroom drama of a media-whipped, rumor-driven frame-up eventually unraveling provides the center of the story, much of the beauty of the musical comes from the development of the relationship between Leo Frank and his wife after he is imprisoned, when she proves her real mettle and he comes to realize how much he's taken his wife for granted. There are many memorable numbers: a charming early duet showing the young girl playfully holding a young suitor at bay ("The Picture Show"), a powerful ensemble number at her burial ("It Don't Make Sense"), the two testimonies of the dubious main witness ("That's What He Said"), and Leo and Lucille's "picnic" in his prison cell ("All the Wasted Time"). The cast was strong all around, lead by T.R. Knight as Leo Frank (who totally became his character and made me forget Gray's Anatomy for the evening) and Lara Pulver showing understated strength as his wife, and featuring a number of stage veterans -- Michael Berresse, Davis Gaines, Charlotte d'Amboise, David St. Louis, Christian Hoff, P.J. Griffith -- all masterfully handling multiple roles, and with young newcomers Curt Hansen and Rose Sezniak performing admirably with this strong cast. The choreography and stagecraft are wonderful, beautifully capturing the time, place, and spirit of the show. The parade of coached witnesses, and the enactment of some of the testimony and flashbacks were memorably visualized. The creative use of the simple set, augmented by a few furniture props and sliding panels in the stage floor, did a remarkable job of vividly conjuring a home, a courtroom, a street, a prison cell, a ballroom, a factory office, and a city street. This remarkable piece of theatre only ran for a couple of months when it opened on Broadway in 1998, but it also garnered a couple of Tony awards, and has since gained attention in revival, and last night, we could certainly see why.