Book by Alfred Uhry. Music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown. Coconceived and directed on Broadway by Harold Prince. Directed by Ryan Mooney. A Fighting Chance production. At the Norman Rothstein Theatre on Wednesday, April 19. Continues until April 29
Parade is not a feel-good musical. But there is plenty to celebrate in this very solid production.
Alfred Uhry and Jason Robert Brown’s 1998 musical is based on the true story of Leo Frank, a superintendent at a Georgia factory who was accused of murdering a 13-year-old girl, one of the factory’s workers, in 1913. Leo, a Jewish man transplanted from Brooklyn, becomes a victim of both anti-Semitic and anti-Yankee sentiment, and his trial is a travesty, as the corrupt prosecutor loads the stand with false testimony. Leo is found guilty and sentenced to death, but his wife, Lucille, devotes herself to getting the case reopened. In the process, Leo and Lucille forge a new and deeper bond.
Ryan Mooney deftly directs a cast of 24, harnessing the power of their voices and their on-stage presence as both jubilant crowd and threatening mob. There are many standout performances: Riley Sandbeck’s Leo is soft-spoken but fussy; even before his arrest, he’s a prisoner in the South, where he feels superior to the drawling, cussing men who surround him. Advah Soudack gives a stellar performance as Lucille; she’s a beautiful singer who gives the character both warmth and unwavering confidence. William Tippery is a ferociously vengeful Frankie, the dead girl’s former sweetheart.
In the relatively minor roles of factory janitor Jim Conley and servant Riley, Ricardo Cunha Pequenino steals every scene that he’s in. He delivers three of the show’s best songs: the act one barnburner, “That’s What He Said”, in which Jim delivers damning (and almost certainly fabricated) evidence against Leo; “Rumblin’ and a Rollin’ ”, a smoulderingly soulful tune in which the black servants, Riley and Minnie (Tiana Swan), sardonically note the racism surrounding the trial; and “Blues: Feel the Rain Fall”, a powerful call-and-response for Jim and his fellow members of a chain gang. Pequenino looks set to be a star.
With a few simple but loaded gestures, set designer Tim Driscoll references the ever-present danger of the play’s world: a row of nooses hangs nearly out of sight above one downstage corner, and a tree made of rope dominates the stage. Randy Charlston’s lighting is most striking when it emanates ominously from within the tree. Music director Clare Wyatt leads a four-piece band that handles the show’s many textures without missing a beat.
Parade is a milestone for Mooney, whose company, Fighting Chance Productions, has been finding and cultivating emerging musical theatre talent for a decade now. I’m grateful.