Monday, October 01, 2007

Don't Rain On My Parade - Parade - A Musical - Review

Parade - Donmar Warehouse - London until Nov. 24th 2007
Book by Alfred Uhry, Music and Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, Co-Conceived by Harold Prince
Directed and Choreographed by Rob Ashford

To be honest, I went to see the musical Parade because I felt like I should, more than I actually wanted to. I didn't know much about it except that it opened on Broadway almost 10 years ago, won some Tony's (for Book and Score), got mostly critical acclaim, but a few critics (like the NY Times) and audiences didn't love it and it closed almost right away. Even the clip at the Tony's with Brent Carver (Canada's theatre darling for winning a Tony for Kiss of the Spider Woman) seemed really boring to me (clip after the jump)(at least before I saw the show). But my friend managed to get a good deal on tickets so I went to see what is was all about, expecting to be bored out of my mind by another serious "important" musical, another one about the old South, about racism and other cliches like that (Caroline, Or Change did nothing for me). It probably didn't help that it came off a year after the grand epic masterpiece Ragtime just debuted on Broadway, winning the Tony's the year before, but something rained on the Parade a decade ago, and now it finally hit London's stages at the reputable and intimate Donmar Warehouse.

So, Jason Robert Brown (the up and coming musical writer who wrote The Last Five Years and soon-to-open musical 13) tweaked his musical, adding a song or two, taking out a few, and basically doing some editing, but I wouldn't really know since I never saw the original.

What I did see, from the moment Stuart Matthew Price, as a young soldier off to the Civil War, opens his mouth to sing "The Old Red Hills of Home", was a mesmerizing piece of musical theatre. Parade is a haunting drama based on the real life story of Leo Frank (a tone perfect Bertie Carvel), a Jew (married to Lucille Frank) who was accused of killing a white girl in Georgia in 1913. Not a happy musical indeed. In fact, not exactly musical theatre fodder at all, but Jason Robert Brown's luscious music enhances the drama and emotions in this tragic love story during the craziness of the miscarriage of justice. In fact, the absurdity of watching a musical of something so heavy, reiterates the absurdity of Frank's situation, the situation of finding oneself accused of a crime one didn't commit.

Rob Ashford (choreographer for Curtains, in his directorial debut) takes over Harold Prince's role in the directors chair, to put on the epically small musical Parade on the small stage of the Donmar Warehouse, and it makes the intimate and emotional musical reverberate even more. Ashfords simplistic staging are beautifully done and the thrust stage works well to emphasize the courtroom antics.

While the courtroom scenes probably stretched one song too many, I was completely drawn into the story right away (something I truly did not expect) and the music just enhanced the dramatic core to the theatrical piece. While I found Lara Pulver's (Lucille Frank) voice sometimes a bit shreiky, her performance was raw, and balanced off Bertie Carvel's quiet, minimal emotioned Leo Frank. Others in the cast, including Shaun Esscoffery with his haunting deep sounds, young newcomer Stuart Matthew Price (below, one to watch out for, though my friend was annoyed with him, maybe because I have different ulterior motives, hehe) with his lovely angelic voice, and Mark Bonnar as prosecutor Dorsey helped emphasize the grandness of this very personal situation.

If you get a chance to see it, make sure you see Parade in the intimacy of the Donmar, because although this production deserves to be more widely seen, if it does get the West End transfer, I will admit something might lose out in a larger space, a reason that had been mentioned in the blame for its failure in New York. The simplicity of the staging and the close connection between the audience and Leo Frank reverberates even more when we can see every subtle emotional twinge in Carvel's Leo Frank's face.

Here's a clip of the 53rd Tony Awards where Brent Carver (as Leo Frank) (overacts if you ask me, gasp... speak not well of Canada's Theatre King?) performs "This Is Not Over Yet" from the original New York production of Parade:


Meredith said...

I'm absolutely infatuated with Parade - and so upset that it's playing in London; reason being that I can't be there.

I do hope it gets the West End transfer, especially because I've heard no mention of a recorded album of the new and sparkling production - and perhaps then, there will be one - and hopefully will extend beyond a mention. I'd love to hear the additions and alterations.

My infatuation with Parade stems from my extreme interest and expertise in the Leo Frank case itself, and melds with my love of musical theatre - especially with Jason Robert Brown and Canada's "theatre king," who I just saw stop the rotation of the Earth (as he is well known to do) in The Elephant Man last Tuesday. It was a beautiful production, well worth seeing - and I loitered, as a tradition, at the stage door afterward for a speedy picture and autograph. Driving two hours up from Buffalo really paid off.

So glad to be reading good reviews of the new Parade. Wonderful to hear what you had to say.

Cheers and Best Wishes,

Vance said...

Actually, according to a London theatre blogger, there WILL be a new Cast Recording of the Donmar production of Parade!!! I'm SOOOO excited because I loved it! Sadly I have no detailed info and he said he just read that the director said there will be now, but no official press releases yet.

Vance said...

I just read this in Jason Robert Brown's blog: "First Night Records is producing a new cast album for the show, which will be recorded on October 18 & 19 in London. I'm really excited about that, because it will give people a chance to hear the spectacular performances of this British cast as well as David Cullen's magnificent new orchestrations. The cast album will also be a very important tool for people who want to produce the show, because starting in January 2008, the only version of Parade that will be available for license is this new one; we are withdrawing the earlier version, though we may make "Big News" available separately for those companies who have a Britt Craig that they really want to show off. Don Sebesky and I are also going to revise the original orchestrations so that you can do the show with the small band or the large one."

Which means it has been RECORDED!!! YAHOO!!!

No release date yet but it seems it will be soon if they want it to coincide with the new version to license in Jan 2008.

evkeys said...

OMG if you liked the london cast, you would LOVE the original American cast. The emsemble is soo much better, as well as the instrumental to mostly all the songs. I enjoy both version, but the original blows the london out of the water.
Songs like, There is a Foutain/ It dont make sence, The Factory Girls, Thats What he Said (specifically) are not as good in the London cast.