Parade - Original Broadway Cast
Music and Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown and Alfred Uhry,.
Principle cast includes: Brent Carver (Leo Frank); Carolee Carmello (Lucille Frank); J.B. Adams (Floyd MacDaniel); Ray Aranha (Newt Lee); Rufus Bonds, Jr. (Jim Conley); Don Chastain (Old Soldier); Jeff Edgerton (Young Soldier); John Hickok (Governor Slaton); Herndon Lackey (Hugh Dorsey); Kirk McDonald (Frankie Epps); Jessica Molaskey (Mrs. Phagan); Evan Pappas (Britt Craig); Christy Carlson Romano (Mary Phagan); John Leslie Wolfe (Tom Watson).
Recorded at Clinton Recording Studios, New York, New York on March 1, 1999. Includes liner notes by Jason Robert Brown.
BROWN/UHRY Parade • Original Broadway Cast • RCA VICTOR 09026-63378-2 (78:56)
Recently, as I was driving on the Inner Loop, the soulless interstate highway that encircles our nation’s capital, I nearly became sick to my stomach. It wasn’t “something I et,” as the saying goes, but something I was re-experiencing on the car stereo. A month earlier, I had attended a performance of the 1998 musical Parade at historic Ford’s Theater in Washington. I was so impressed with the show that I immediately purchased the original Broadway cast recording, and as I was replaying it that afternoon in my car, my response was not just emotional but visceral. Parade is a deeply disturbing show, but it also is a great one. I have had occasion to remark in these pages that those who decry the rarity of artistically and popularly successful American operas may simply be looking in the wrong places. Several of Stephen Sondheim’s musicals ( Sweeney Todd and Passion , for example) are operatic in most senses of the word. Parade , the work of composer Jason Robert Brown and lyricist Alfred Uhry, could have been a Sondheim musical. It was, in fact, suggested to Sondheim by director Harold Prince. Who knows what he would have done with it? However, I am not dwelling on what could have been, because Brown’s and Uhry’s Parade , in its own way, is equal to the best of Sondheim.
The subject is an unlikely one. In 1913, Leo Frank, a Brooklyn Jew reluctantly transplanted to Atlanta, was accused of murdering a 13-year-old girl, Mary Phagan, who worked in the pencil factory he managed. Slavering journalists, over-ambitious lawyers and politicians, mob feeling, perjuring witnesses, prejudice, Southern history, and Frank’s outsider status resulted in his conviction, which today is regarded as a perversion of due process. He was sentenced to death. Appeals all the way up to the level of the United States Supreme Court were of no avail. Finally, the governor of Georgia, in his final days of office, commuted Frank’s sentence to life imprisonment. Not long after, a fellow convict slashed Frank’s throat, almost fatally. As Frank was recovering, a masked posse of well-regarded citizens succeeded in removing him from his jail. They took him to an oak tree and lynched him. The Frank incident precipitated the renaissance of the Ku Klux Klan in the South. It also led to the founding of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith. Brown and Uhry have made this story more personal by putting, at the center of it, the relationship between Leo Frank and his wife, Lucille. Initially a distracted and distant husband, Frank grows to understand and appreciate his wife, whose tireless efforts on his behalf, though they were not able to save him, must have caused him to feel a measure of salvation as the noose was tied around his neck.
Brown and Uhry are to be applauded for their fairness in writing this show. There is bitterness, but no caricaturing of Frank’s adversaries. One understands the conditions that led to this “Trial of the Century” without for a moment sensing that they are being condoned. The opening number, “The Old Red Hills of Home,” depicts a Confederate soldier bidding his sweetheart farewell, and then the same soldier, 50 years later, still bearing the physical and emotional scars caused by the Civil War. In just one song, Brown and Uhry tell us more than several chapters of a history book about the South after the Civil War. Uhry’s lyrics are, as needed, heartfelt, sardonic, inflammatory, or inspiring, and always perceptive. They take us into the minds of all the main characters. When he wrote this score, Brown was in his early 20s. Nevertheless, it is an exceptionally polished piece of work. He draws upon various genres—ragtime, blues, gospel, and so on—to flesh out the time, the place, and the people. It sounds both old and contemporary. Above all, however, Parade is a score that is full of melody, and it is melody that pulls the drama forward, rather than serving as a resting point. Brown knows Puccini’s trick of taking melodies heard earlier in the show and bringing them back in a different context to create a telling dramatic and emotional effect. Parade is not the sort of score that spawns hits—songs that take on a life of their own outside of the show. Instead, the songs fit together like pieces in a mosaic, making a cumulative effect one could not have imagined otherwise.
Sadly, this show only lasted for a few months (although it has been produced in various other places, of course). This recording was made the day after the show’s closing, and features the original cast. And what a cast. Tenor Brent Carver certainly stands out as Leo, moving convincingly from the peevishness of his opening “How Can I Call This Home?” to the “Sh’ma Yisroel” he sings in his final moments on the lynching tree. As Lucille, Carolee Carmello brings a Valkyrie-like intensity and force to her songs. Other standouts are Jessica Molaskey as Mary’s mother, Evan Pappas as muckraking newspaperman Britt Craig, Jeff Edgerton as the Young Confederate Soldier, Kirk McDonald as Mary’s young friend Frankie, and Rufus Bonds Jr. as Jim Conley, Mary’s likely murderer, who is deeply complicit in blaming Leo Frank for the crime. This is an ensemble show, however, and everyone passionately works together to make it a thoroughly riveting listening experience on CD. This is a gut-wrenching 79 minutes, with scarcely a moment of relief. My only regret is that more of the spoken dialogue was not included. (You have to follow the libretto to know that Leo has been abducted from jail and taken to be hanged.) That would have necessitated a second CD, though. (There is, in fact, an English cast recording of Parade that includes the show’s entire dialogue, plus additional material. I have not heard it—yet!—so I will refrain from commenting on it.) Music director Eric Stern ensures that the show’s theatricality extends into the pit band as well.
If you care about American musical theater, do not delay in acquainting yourself with Parade , an outstanding, important show made available to a wider audience by virtue of this compelling CD. Then, perhaps, you will be lucky enough to see an actual production of it.
FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle
Catalog Number: 09026633782
Composer: Jason Robert Brown
Performer: Brent Carver, Carolee Carmello, Christy Carlso Romano, Evan Pappas, J.B. Adams, Jeff Edgerton, John Hickok, Kirk McDonald, Ray Aranha, Rufus Bonds Jr.