(Copyright, The Atlanta Journal and Constitution - 1999)


Original cast. RCA Victor. 28 tracks.

Grade: A

The first sound you hear is the rhythmic rat-tat-tat of a military drum. Then a
plaintive tenor --- a Rebel soldier --- sings softly of the old red hills of home, a
Georgia "where honor lives and breathes."

The song continues, but the scene changes. It's 1913, and the Confederate
Memorial Day Parade has begun. That hopeful soldier is 50 years older, his
voice deeper and sadder.

So begins "Parade," the Alfred Uhry-Jason Robert Brown musical that lasted
only weeks but is now collecting plenty of end-of-season accolades. The show
portrays 1913 Georgia as a land of dishonor, where a young Mary Phagan is
strangled, where Yankee Jew Leo Frank is railroaded for the crime and where
any number of Southerners find the pull of a private agenda more intoxicating
than the search for truth.

Tough stuff for a musical? Yes, but as exciting as it is devastating. "Parade" is
one of the finest Broadway scores in recent years, performed by thrilling theater
singers and given backbone by a chorus that can soar or sting or break into
harmonies so potent your eyes will moisten.

Brown, in his Broadway debut, has crafted odes, hymns, marches and more for
characters who show cracks as well as courage. When Lucille Frank (Carolee
Carmello) spits out "You Don't Know This Man" to a crowd of accusers, she
fights to control her outrage as she tells them how little they do know. When
Leo (Brent Carver) sings of being an outsider ("How Can I Call This Home?"),
his longing for Brooklyn where "people look like I do and talk like I do" is
urgent and unfulfillable. When reporter Britt Craig (Evan Pappas) heralds "Big
News" to the plinkety-plank of a barroom piano, it's clear his thirst for booze
long ago liquefied his need for facts.

This is a remarkable recording, one that gives lovers of cast albums the chance
to revel in a wholly original American musical. Brown's is a grown-up score for
those of us who want substance with our razzle-dazzle and our brains engaged
as our toes start tapping.