Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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October 06, 2009

T.R. Knight and Lara Pulver in Parade
Photo: Craing Schwartz/CTG 2009

The first thing you should know about the musical Parade, which opened over the weekend at the Mark Taper Forum, is that it is not a stage version of Under the Cherry Moon. I know. I, too, was disappointed to discover that the musical theater world is still not ready for Prince, and Kristin Scott Thomas won’t be reprising her star role anywhere anytime soon. No, this Parade is Alfred Uhry and Jason Robert Brown’s Tony-winning 1999 musical about the Leo Frank trial that played out in Atlanta in the early 20th century. Frank was a Jewish man who’d moved from his native Brooklyn around 1913 to manage a pencil factory in Atlanta. In that fateful year, on Confederate Memorial Day no less, a thirteen year-old employee of the factory, Mary Phagan was murdered and later found on the factory’s premises. Frank was framed for the crime and convicted on spurious circumstantial evidence. He was given the death penalty, but later had his sentence commuted after a national outcry from business leaders as well as prominent national figures, many of them Jewish, from the North and the East. Despite this, Frank was later abducted from prison and lynched.

Granted this is not your typical musical fare unless you’re Sondheim. And while Brown and Uhry aren’t, they are more than capable of coming up with a lyrically engaging and thoughtful piece. The sparse, dark, and dreary staging at the Taper probably won’t convince you of this, but it is true. In fact, this Parade paints such a dreary beige picture that it’s almost unfair. Between this and the Real Housewives, it’s amazing that anyone would ever want to visit Atlanta again. True, this is a period piece so the absence of neon lighting is no surprise. But I could have used more than the few spotlights that were the primary source of light throughout the whole show. It’s so dull looking that at times you might catch yourself praying for a ladder or a chair to break the monotony.

The star of the show is TV’s T.R. Knight and he has a confidence and believability about him even if he doesn’t have the upper vocal range to really bring home any of the numbers in the show. Of course, he’s still better than about half the cast. This was vocally one of the strangest cast shows I’ve seen in a while. A number of folks had serious pitch problems. Luckily the balance between the miked singers and the orchestra was so poor, that you typically couldn’t hear them against the other vocal artists. There are exceptions to this rule. Lara Pulver, who plays Leo's wife Lucille becomes the center of the show as it moves along and, given the strength of her vocal powers, does rescue the evening from getting too cartoonish, which it does risk doing at more than a couple of moments. Still, it can be seen as an antidote to the big-budget Broadway movie/rock star/child's toy-inspired fare. It's just a bit on the meager side. Parade runs through the 15th of November at the Mark Taper Forum.


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