Chapel Off Chapel
Until 6 August
By Alex First
Based on a true story, injustice and antisemitism are at the core of the powerful musical Parade.
It is 1913 and we are in Atlanta, Georgia.
That is where Leo Frank (Aaron Robuck) has moved from Brooklyn to be with his wife Lucille (Montana Sharp) after her uncle offered him a good job.
Leo is a hard-working, conservative Jew who can’t fathom the differing temperament between Jews from the north and the south.
He shows no love or affection for his wife and buries himself in his job as supervisor at a pencil factory.
And then a tragedy at work changes the trajectory of his life.
He is charged with murdering 13-year-old Mary Phagan (Adeline Hunter) who worked at the factory.
The two suspects being held by police are him and night watchman Newt Lee (Wem Etuknwa).
The heinous nature of the crime sees Governor John Slaton (Nic Davey-Greene) lean on solicitor general Hugh Dorsey (James Nation-Ingle) to secure a conviction.
Dorsey doesn’t believe that incriminating a black man is enough, so he sets up Leo Frank by “coaching” those he approaches to give evidence in the case.
The writing is on the wall, but Lucille stands by her husband, even after the jury brings down its inevitable verdict.
Still, not all hope is lost … and yet before this is over the situation will take another, very ugly turn.
With book by Alfred Uhry and music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, there is much to appreciate and savour in Soundworks Productions’ Parade.
Notably, there is the intensity and feeling the strong cast generate in their performances.
Leading the charge are the remarkable Aaron Robuck and Montana Sharp whose vocal acuity is matched by the nuance they bring to their respective roles.
Robuck’s part is particularly demanding and he proves time and again that he is up to the challenge, while Sharp’s variation in tone is masterful.
Mind you, they are not the only ones that impress. I could virtually single out any of the 17 on show, but let me focus on at least a few more.
I was taken by James Frampton, who plays Mary Phagan’s young suitor and Adeline Hunter, who assumes Mary’s persona.
They excel in their delivery, while James Nation-Ingle has significant stage presence as the self-serving, opportunistic prosecutor.
Among the many standout musical numbers, Guillaume Gentil sizzles as convict Jim Conley when squaring off with the governor in Blues: Feel the Rain Fall.
Soon thereafter comes the tenderest moment in the piece when Lucille visit Leo at a prison farm and they share the stage with All the Wasted Time.
I thought the musical direction throughout by Benjamin Samuel was exemplary, although the matinee performance I saw suffered from microphone issues.
I am also afraid to say that the creative team didn’t get the sound mix right at the start.
Performers taking to the stage for the opening number appeared to be competing with the music, especially a drummer.
In short, the actors were drowned out.
Fortunately, that issue was addressed thereafter.
Freya List does a magnificent job with the choreography, while Harry Gill’s costuming brings with it authenticity of the era.
As director, Mark Taylor has done a mighty job.
Overall, notwithstanding the reservations I have outlined, Soundworks Productions’ Parade is heartfelt and triumphant.
Importantly, its themes of racism and intolerance remain as relevant today as when the musical is set. All of us have a part to play in righting that wrong.
It is on at Chapel Off Chapel until 6th August, 2023.
About the Author
Alex First believes all people have a story to tell, if only a good playwright can prize it out of them. Alex has a natural curiosity about the world and believes a strong narrative, or narrative with music, can open the door to subjects about which he knows little.
Like his parents before him, theatre is his passion – a passion with emotional resonance, one that moves and excites him. He brings decades’ experience as an arts’ connoisseur to his role as a critic.
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