Opera News
July 1999
Album review by Joshua Rosenblum

Carmello, Molaskey; Carver, Lackey, Bonds, Jr., Pappas; Lincoln
Center Theater, Stern.  1999.  Text.  RCA Victor, 09026-63378-2

The ambitous new musical Parade takes as its subject the notorious 1913
Atlanta trial of Brooklyn-born Jew Leo Frank, who was wrongfully accused of
killing a young girl working in his factory.  The scene is cleverly and
succinctly set in the opening number ("The Old Red Hills of Home"), which
shows a proud young Confederate soldier heading off to battle and then jumps
ahead fifty years to depict the same man, now minus a leg, being hailed as a
hero at the Confederate Memorial Day Parade.  In this context of defiant
Southern pride and distrust of Northern outsiders, the public's eagerness to
condemn Frank is, if not forgivable, at least comprehensible.
Several songs land convincingly as efforts to persuade the citizenry and the
jury of Frank's culpability.  Some are sung by people who honestly think
Frank is guilty (the movingly stalwart Jessica Molaskey as the murdered
girl's mother) and others by those who know he probably isn't but have their
own agendas (the comically dynamic Evan Pappas as a frustrated newspaperman,
Rufus Bonds, Jr. as a colorful escaped con gleefully fulfilling his deal with
the prosecutor).  Quite a compelling show is put on by all, and the more
heartfelt or exciting the presentation, the more unsettled it leaves the
listener, who knows Frank is innocent.
As played understatedly but assuredly by Brent Carver, Frank wins our
sympathy without having to ask for it, maintaining quiet dignity in the face
of horrifying circumstances.  Carolee Carmello, as his courageous wife, has
the acting skills to create a full-blooded portrait of an unglamorous woman,
but can still knock out a Broadway ballad with practiced flair and belt up to
an E when necessary.  Broadway newcomer Jason Robert Brown, although he has
clearly mastered many varying idioms, rarely settles for the obvious, either
in his music or his lyrics.  One interesting recurrent touch involves the
intrusion of one musical style literally on top of another, such as the
marching band interjections during Frank's first interior musical monologue,
or the chillingly celebratory cakewalk which overtakes the jurors' solemn
intonation of the word "guilty" at the end of the trial.  These
juxtapositions result in startling Ivesian polyrhythms and bitonality, which
underline the chaotic sense of a world gone mad.   While an occasional number
falls short of memorability (the Franks' love duet "All the Wasted Time"
sounds more like a hit pop single than a unique, contextually-inspired
utterance), Parade is an impressive achievement.  If its unstinting portrayal
of a shameful episode in our country's history was too harsh for some
audiences, we can still be grateful for this superbly recorded and performed

-- Joshua Rosenblum

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