Fell's Point takes on a difficult subject
Theater doesn't adequately tackle hurdles in 'Parade'

J. Wynn Rousuck, Baltimore Sun
September 26, 2002

You can't fault Fell's Point Corner Theatre when it comes to ambition. The
little theater has launched its season with the Maryland premiere of a
musical that has: 1) a cast of 35, 2) a highly intricate musical score, and
3) a plot that tells a dire true story of child murder, rampant
anti-Semitism and a lynching in early 20th-century Atlanta.

The musical is Parade, an account by playwright Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss
Daisy) and songwriter Jason Robert Brown of the trial of Leo Frank, a Jewish
businessman accused of murdering a 13-year-old factory girl named Mary
Phagan in 1913.

It's a difficult subject for a musical, and the Broadway production met with
wildly divergent reviews (Variety called it "the feel-bad musical of the
year"), closing after only a few months. However, those who admired the show
- this critic among them - received some vindication when it won posthumous
1999 Tony Awards for best book and score.

But if the musical presented tough challenges on Broadway, it presents major
hurdles on the community theater level, and despite an often valiant effort,
Fell's Point Corner is unable to surmount most of those hurdles.

The trouble begins with the first strains of the overly synthesized,
over-amplified recorded score, which drowns out all but the largest choral
numbers. Those, regrettably, err in the opposite direction - they're nearly

This is all the more unfortunate because, within its significant historical
and social context, Parade is essentially the story of two people - husband
and wife Leo and Lucille Frank. An awkward, seemingly mismatched couple, Leo
and Lucille come to know, respect and ultimately love each other in the
course of the gruesome events that overtake their lives.

At Fell's Point Corner, these complex characters are played with sensitivity
by a real-life engaged couple, Matthew Bowerman and Claire Carberry.
Bowerman makes us care for a character who starts out cold and
unapproachable, and Carberry's sonorous voice is one of the loveliest

Sensitivity and loveliness are in much demand with material this blatant.
But under the hard-driving stage direction of Bill Kamberger and musical
direction of Jane Rubak, nuanced numbers such as Lucille's moving solo, "You
Don't Know This Man," and the couple's poignant duet, "All the Wasted Time,"
get short shrift.

Still, a number of notable supporting performances shine through: King
Hinton as the somber night watchman who is also initially arrested for the
murder; Josh Singer as a jittery, opportunistic reporter; Scott Woltz as a
vengeful teen-age friend of murdered Mary Phagan; and Jennifer Kersey as
sweet Mary herself. The ensemble singing by the massive cast is also
impressive, albeit overpowering.

With child abductions and murders - not to mention racism and anti-Semitism
- once again dominating the headlines, Parade would appear to be especially
timely. But the show's greatness lies in the way it uses a love story and
soaring score to make these themes resound.

The problem with Fell's Point Corner's production is that it allows the size
and importance of the themes to predominate; the artistry of this powerful
piece of musical theater seems merely secondary.

Show times at Fell's Point Corner, 251 S. Ann St., are 8 p.m. Fridays and
Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays, through Oct. 20. Tickets are $15. For more
information, call 410-276-7837.

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