Sunday, March 25, 2012
Book by Alfred Uhry
Music and Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown
Directed by Sean Murray
Old Town Theater
It has been over 5 years since I have seen a show here in San Diego and when I saw that the Cygnet Theater Company was to present Parade, I nearly lost my shiz. I love the story, the music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown holds one with breathless anticipation to what will happen next.
I would have loved to have seen this with Rhett as this is his favorite show, but I was joined by my other favorite Jew, Jack Aaronson as a Piano Player, composer and musical theater freak I knew I was in good company.
Parade tells the story of the trail of Leo Frank a New York Jew who was accused, put on trail and eventually hanged for the murder of 13 year old Mary Phagan on Confederate Memorial Day in 1913. What made this trial so infamous and sensational was that all the evidence against Leo Frank was circumstantial at best or just out right lies. Yankee educated and set up as the superintendent of a pencil factory in Atlanta Georgia Leo Frank was the last to see Mary Phagan, who came to pick up her pay envelope. When her dead body was found in the basement of the factory, Leo Frank and his African American night watchman Jim Conley came under suspicion, but through Jim Conley's lies, innuendo and manipulation of the suspicions white southerns he was able to steer the investigation to Leo Frank and off himself. Leo Frank was subsequently convicted of the murder and sentenced to hang. Shortly before the execution of Mr. Frank, Georgia Governor John Slaton commuted the sentence and reopened the case. After an extensive investigation Gov. Slaton was convinced that Leo Frank was falsely accused, and had him remanded to an undisclosed prison to await his final appeal, but on the night of June 21, 1915 a group of men abducted and lynched Leo Frank. This group of men comprised up of a former Gov. of Georgia, most of the Cobb County Sheriffs depart, and other prominent members of the community. The rampant Antisemitism surrounding this case was stirred up by fear, ignorance and yellow journalism, and nearly one hundred years later the Frank fascinates, confounds, and disturbs those who hear of the story.
With music written in his Iconic 6/4 timing, Jason Robert Brown takes us through a wide range of emotions, as he tries to impart the frustration and heartbreak of a miscarriage of justice and the tragic loss of a young life.
Sean Murray has done a passable job of directing this very emotional show, although were a few moments in which the cast seemed to be lost and not know what they should be doing, these moments few and the rest of the production was well staged.
Brandon Joel Maier who plays Leo Frank gives an interesting performance, his nebish, high strung performance and strong voice and well handling of the difficult score, made for a compelling evening.
Sandy Campbell as Lucille Frank, left me wanting more, her execution of the dialogue was fair and she was able convey the helplessness and love Mrs. Frank had for her husband during this difficult time. Unfortunately Ms. Campell does not have the vocal strength to pull off some of the songs that require the depth of emotion needed to effectively get the audience engaged.
Some notable performances include Jacob Caltrider as Frankie Epps, this young actor has the strong voice and was fully engaged in his character and his stunning rendition of the song "It don't make sense" had me in goosebumps, I look forward to seeing him in future productions. Bryan Barbarin floored me with his silky smooth voice, and his interpretation of the character Jim Conley, the night watchman who was also accused of killing Mary Phagan, but with lies he was able to avoid prosecution, his solo "That's What he Said " was well performed and made you really hate the character. Rounding out the cast were some San Diego Theater Icons, Steve Gunderson, Rick D. Meads, and Tom Stephenson, I have always enjoyed watching these men perform they lend credence and experience to any production.
A nod goes out to Chris Rynne for an excellent lighting design, Rosalee Barrientos's stage management made this production seem effortless as it transitioned from scene to scene.
So on a scale of Top, Bottom, or Versatile I have to give Parade a Versatile Bottom, with a little fine tuning of some scenes and recast of Lucille Frank this show could hold it's own with the best of any Broadway show.