Score soars in Stage Door's Parade
By Bill Hirschman
Posted February 5 2003
Anti-Semitism, repressed emotions and a lynching are not standard underpinnings
for any musical, let alone one at Florida's leading purveyor of fluffy farces,
Broadway warhorses and nostalgic songbook revues.
So the Stage Door Theatre deserves a grateful ovation simply for undertaking
Parade. Not just because the 1998 Tony winner is light years from the company's
usual fare, but because Parade is so daring in scope, themes and presentation
that no other local company comes to mind with both the will and the resources
to attempt it.
Still, this production is a mixed accomplishment. Jason Robert Brown's soaring,
jaunty and ultimately moving score is solidly served by a majority of the
dedicated cast, vocal direction by Eric Alsford and especially, breathtaking
orchestrations in a prerecorded performance by David Cohen.
But when the music stops, the book scenes by Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy)
don't have the same precision, punch and power under Dan Kelley's direction.
Bigotry doesn't seem woven into the fabric of the community. A climactic
lynching falls flat. (Note: Four people do not make a mob.)
Parade is a true story of buried passions -- good and ill -- finally erupting.
The fulcrum is Leo Frank, a Brooklyn Jew managing a pencil factory in Atlanta's
New South of 1913. His wife, Lucille, is pressing her husband to assimilate.
But inherently insecure and emotionally distant, Frank feels as alien to
his neighbors as they do to him.
When the body of 13-year-old Mary Phagan is found in the factory, politicians,
newsmen and bigots whip up outrage and frame the most convenient suspect,
the Jew -- a word spat out like an obscenity. Leo Frank's trial allows the
community to vent resentment at their genteel Southland being infected and
displaced by Northerners' industrialization. But of course, the more profound
anger has simmered a half-century from a much deeper wound. In the horrific
railroading that ensues, the Franks find personal courage and discover a
truer, mature love emerging from their perfunctory marriage.
The harrowing 1988 television film The Murder of Mary Phagan provided exactly
what is missing from this production: the noose of doom inevitably tightening
as individuals are swept away by social forces.
Fortunately, Kelley, Alsford and their cast capture the passion rippling
through Brown's fluid music and heartfelt lyrics. Although not the most accessible
score for ears attuned to Rodgers and Hammerstein, a bit of effort to get
in tune with Brown's aural vision is amply repaid with an emotionally stirring
procession of anthems, foxtrots, ballads and cakewalks.
Robert Koutras and Vicki White as the Franks are not charismatic or shaded
enough in their straight acting, but their clarion voices stir the heart
as they warmly caress Brown's music.
Other standouts include soulful Teddy Harrell Jr. as a duplicitous janitor;
Trystin Lento, the dancing playboy in Stage Door's Crazy for You, as a dancing
governor; and above all Shane R. Tanner as a bottom-feeding reporter gleefully
raking the muck.
Kelley's declamatory tableau staging sometimes works, but often seems static
for a show called Parade. Also, the sound on opening night was wildly uneven
and microphone failures fatally undercut key moments such as Frank's halting
musical plea to the jury.
The Stage Door family should be encouraged for exploring this territory,
but they need to build on their musical expertise and develop some dramatic
IF YOU GO
Where: Stage Door Theatre, 8036 W. Sample Road, Coral Springs
When: Through March 30. Shows 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Wednesday,
Thursday, Saturday & Sunday; 7 p.m. Sunday
Info: Call 954-344-7765
Bill Hirschman can be reached at 954-356-4513 or bhirschman\@sun-sentinel.com.
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