Book: Alfred Uhry
Music and Lyrics: Jason Robert Brown
Director: Hannah Chissick
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
The National Youth Music Theatre never fails to impress when it takes over The Other Palace for its three weeks of musicals. Up first is Parade, Alfred Uhry and Jason Robert Brown’s show about a murder in Georgia USA, and in many ways the NYMT’s intelligent production is worth five stars were it not for the colour-conscious casting.
As Parade is set in Georgia in 1913, when black people were persecuted and disenfranchised, there’s some logic to director Hannah Chissick’s decision to have all the poor black people in the show played by BAME actors. However, this decision also means that white actors now play all the show’s leading characters. Surely a London audience could cope with a BAME actor playing the part of a white confederate or even, in the case of the main character, a white Jewish man? Chissick’s decision is an odd one in 2019.
As it is, the show’s two main leads are split between two actors with each taking on three of the six performances. On the opening night Matt Pettifor plays Leo Frank, a Jewish factory owner who is accused of murdering a 13-year-old employee, while Lucy Carter plays his dutiful and resourceful wife. Both sing and act superbly, with Pettifor capturing perfectly the stubbornness of Leo. As his imprisonment continues we see and hear the resignation in Pettifor’s performance. Carter is convincing likewise and does well with the moments when she has to half-sing, half-speak at the start of some of her numbers. The two form a dynamic partnership on stage as evidenced in All The Wasted Time.
They are ably supported by all the cast and it’s impossible to mention everyone by name but Alfie Richards as the greasy prosecutor Hugh Dorsey and Ciarán McCormack as the smooth talking reporter really impress with their acting and singing, and McCormack is very light on his toes, too, in the number Real Big News. Kiana Mottahedan is striking as the crystal-voiced Iola, perhaps another victim of Leo’s impropriety. Featuring only briefly but still managing to bring the house down with her voice in A Rumblin’ And A Rollin’ is Samuelle Durojaiye.
Almost stealing the show is Iyinoluwa Michael Akintoye as the duplicitous star witness, and his performance in Blues: Feel the Rain Fall is the highlight of the evening. It is great that a BAME actor can showcase their skills in this role, but colour-conscious casting means that that these roles are severely limited. It just doesn’t seem fair that the other BAME actors didn’t have a chance to go for the lead roles.
Chissick’s direction of this young cast, all between the ages of 15 and 22, is slick and creative. She is wise to dovetail scenes thus avoiding applause coming after every song, and the story is gripping to the last. The musicians also feature young people from the NYMT, and the orchestra were solid, and after the first few songs, never too loud to drown out the singing.
There’s more energy here than in many West End shows, and Parade is a great start to the season with new musical Legend Tripper and classic Anything Goes still to come. The audience were up on its feet at the end of Parade’s first night, but strangely the house lights came on in seconds and the cast quickly left the stage. Let these young actors blaze in glory for a little longer: they certainly deserve it!
Runs until 10 August 2019