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Friday, October 02, 2009


Whenever I go to the theater and see something so beautiful, smart & moving the endorphins somehow kick in and I get giddy with excitement. Tonight, seeing Jason Robert Brown's Tony Award Winning Parade at the Mark Taper Forum was one of those amazing nights. Sure, I happen to think JRB is just a phenomenal talent and I seem to connect to some facet of his work more than with any other composer, but...Parade is really, really, really good. I've blogged about Parade before but this is a newer version of the show that has been downsized from the original production when the show was staged at the Donmar Warehouse in 2007.

I have been impatiently awaiting Parade since the Taper announced it as part of the 2009-2010 season. This is another show that I never got to see (until now), but discovered and fell in love with it through its cast recording (for which another was made following the Donmar Warehouse production). In the original cast recording, I liked Brent Carver quite a bit as Leo Frank and wondered who might be cast in this LA version. I had no real reaction when I read about the casting of T.R. Knight.

Parade however, was discussed (more than it would have) since T.R. Knight's casting (his first gig post-Grey's Anatomy). A well-known celebrity blogger who I don't particularly care for even discussed it which I guess makes it a "big deal". I had no idea what to expect of Knight though and went into the show with an open mind. After all, if JRB had any say in the casting of his male lead, he wouldn't have agreed to a schlub of an actor with no singing chops, right? For the record, I haven't seen a single episode of Grey's Anatomy, so I didn't have any opinion towards Knight as an actor much less a singer. Knight's performance was actually quite good - he played a cold yet vulnerable & definitely quirky Leo Frank who opened up by the end of the show (its amazing what an intermission can do, huh)? I completely bought into his character and there were moments when I was completely taken with his performance. There were other times, when I realized that belting isn't so much his forte. There were moments during "Come Up To My Office" and "All the Wasted Time" where he was really selling his performance, singing it incredibly and then...he belted and it was actually a little distracting and pulled me out of the moment. For the most part though, he was fantastic!

In addition...what a cast!!! Wow, wow, wow! I recall being impressed when I read the final casting for the show, but I totally forgot until I took a look at the program. The cast boasts: Lara Pulver (who returns to the role of Lucille Frank from the Donmar Warehouse production) who I just loved (and loved more than Carolee Carmello from the Broadway production), Christian Hoff (Tony Award winner for Jersey Boys) who makes evil look so good, Phoebe Strole (Anna from the Broadway production of Spring Awakening), Michael Berresse (director of my personal favorite, [title of show]) who reunited with his A Chorus Line co-star Charlotte d'Amboise (Tony nominee for her role as Cassie in the revival of A Chorus Line) and Davis Gaines (who was a pleasant surprise to see and ended up being my personal favorite from his long run here in LA as the title role in The Phantom of the Opera). I just can't believe what a strong & amazing cast this is! This production with its high energy, amazing voices and ridiculously talented cast, undoubtedly belongs on the Broadway stage...again. Though I've never seen the Hal Prince staged version of this show (and I am quite an admirer of him), I think Rob Ashford did a hell of a job directing and choreographing the show. There was something so perfect about the dancing throughout the show that emphasized and and captured the meaning that I loved and worked so well.

If you have any doubt...check out the clips of the show courtesy of the Center Theatre Group:

The only problem that I found with the show was that it was extremely hard to hear some of JRB's intricate piano riffs. I could hear them so clearly in cast recordings (and even in the clip above) but found them either difficult to hear or heard what I thought were simplified versions of the music tonight. There was also the issue of almost every actor (except maybe Knight and Pulver) who played multiple roles which made the show just a little bit confusing (particularly if you weren't familiar with the storyline). I quickly got over that fact because I thought almost everything else about the show was so strong.

I guess at this point I should also mention that though my enthusiasm is high for Parade, it is a very, very dark show and perhaps it isn't what people think it will be. As stated from Center Theatre Group:

"A shameful event in American history and a poignant love story are at the heart of Parade…[which] follows the true story of the arrest, conviction and lynching of Leo Frank in post-Civil War Atlanta, Georgia. Mary Phagan, a 13-year-old factory worker, has been murdered on the day of the 1913 Confederate Memorial Day parade. Frank, the factory's superintendent and a Jewish outsider, is immediately cast as a suspect. As the media frenzy ensues, with journalists thirsting for news to boost circulations and ambitious politicians seeking votes, Frank — the transplanted Yankee — becomes the scapegoat. His wife, Lucille, passionately works for her husband's release from jail but public hatred continues to rise to a fever pitch. Despite the terrible circumstance, Leo and Lucille find a renewed commitment to each other as well as a moment of transcendent grace in their tragedy."

I knew this going in, I knew that it wouldn't end happily (its not a spoiler, its a tragic historical fact) and I also figured this show wouldn't be for everyone, but the people who were there I assume wanted to be. Yet when after intermission, I saw huge gaping holes in the theater, I was a little bit surprised. Its hard to say what patrons were thinking walking into Parade. I felt like more people returned after intermission when I saw Spring Awakening at the Ahmanson last year (and there were some pretty graphic scenes) particularly when I looked out and saw that the majority of the audience were 60+ years old). An entire second row I think emptied out after intermission and I really, really didn't understand that. I haven't walked out of any show (I might have really wanted to with some shows) but I guess I don't understand how deeply Parade affected some audience members to warrant leaving. Personally, I didn't leave the theater feeling somber and horrified (though I was horrified at the fate of Leo Frank and this tragic story). I left the Taper feeling revived and grateful to be able to support some of the best musical theater I think LA has seen in years!

At the end of the day though, I think it is it fair to say that for me, aside from thinking that Parade was fantastic and grateful for it fueling my theater-deprived soul, seeing Davis Gaines back on stage also brought back some kind of reminiscence of my youth. As much as I adore JRB and Parade, there is also something familiar and comforting seeing Davis Gaines back at The Music Center...which kind of makes me love the show that much more. All and all, this was quite a satisfying evening spent at the theater...partially because of being seated front row center, but mostly because of this amazingly special show.


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