MusicalNorth WestReview

Parade – Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester

Music &Lyrics: Jason Robert Brown

Book: Alfred Uhry

Director: James Baker

Reviewer: Stephen M Hornby

At the crux of Parade is the sense of fetid failure in the Southern States of America at the start of the 20th Century. The decades of resentment since they lost the Civil War have incubated a prejudice not just to African Americans, but to all outsider Yankees, especially outsider Yankees who are also Jewish. This might not appear to be the most obvious material for musical theatre, but Parade takes the genre and pushes it to the very limits of what it can contain, and is a triumph. The accolades and multiple award nominations that it has received are well deserved.

Leo and Lucille Frank are a married couple in the 1913, making sense of their relatively mundane lives in Georgia. Frank works for the National Pencil Company and Lucille is the kind of housewife who fusses over a hair on her husband’s jacket. They are also Jewish, but very different kinds of Jews. Frank specifically is from Brooklyn, in many ways the antithesis of the state he now lives in. Mary Phagan is a thirteen year old working in the pencil factory where Frank is a Superintendant. When her dead body is found in the factory in the early hours, both Frank and the African American night-watchman are arrested, seemingly on the basis of nothing more than their respective religion and race. The trial, Frank’s imprisonment and eventual fate form the plot of the rest of the show. It is a moral lesson in anti-Semitism and a universal story about the fragility of justice under the storm of public outrage, and it is also a sweet and engaging love story.

This revival and regional professional premiere feels like it’s bursting out of the seams of Hope Mill Theatre. The whole space has been transformed with a wooden floor, walls, platforms and new entrances forming the set, so that the audience is totally surrounded by the action of show. A nine piece band is accommodated and directed by Tom Chester, along with a cast of 15 performers. It’s a big show and has big show production values. Radio mics are used on all the performers. The sound quality and mix between the band and the singers, the spoken and the sung, is all excellent. The only small thing that doesn’t quite come up to standard is the costumes, which close up often look quite anachronistic and sometimes not very well fitting.

The sung performances are all good. Tom Lloyd as Frank and Laura Harrison as Lucile are excellent. They portray all the intense emotions of their difficult journey beautifully and capture both the fragility and strength of both characters. Matt Mills and Aidan Banyard also stand out as first class performers among a generally talented cast. Perhaps some of them seem a little young for the roles they are playing, but mostly they carry it off. There are a number of people doubling up and a bit more is needed to be done to differentiate between some characters, for example, John Mulleady’s change from playing Officer Ivey to Luther Rosser is potentially confusing.

The themes of the play are contentious and some of the scenes require careful playing and some subtlety, not something musicals are always known for, and director James Baker pulls out some great performances. The one weakness however are the group scenes and choreography (William Whelton), which feels like the one area where the show lacks scale and the cast lack confidence. A Governor’s Ball is mostly reduced to one dancing couple while other characters mill around and slow-step and a couple of other full cast sequences amount to little more than people walking from one point to another on stage repeatedly.

Parade is the thinking person’s musical of choice. This production does the complexity and seriousness of the musical justice and is sensitive and well realised. It is an impressive demonstration of what can be achievedon the fringe.

Runs until 5th June 2016 | Image: Robling Photography

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