Review by Jeff Lockhorn

Reviewed at the Pittsburgh CLO's Bennedum Center in August 2000

I dare anyone to put before me what they call a better touring production of a musical than the current tour of Parade. I guarantee you I would emerge victorious.

As a show, Parade may have its problems, but the current tour is simply phenomenal. Things that didn't work on Broadway due to the unconventional thrust staging now seem to work a lot better, and the new performers bring new promise to a show that wasn't all it could be on Broadway. Even numbers that seem somewhat benign and boring turn brilliant in the hands of the current company. Randy Redd's "Big News!," Keith Byron Kirk's "Feel the Rain Fall," and Adinah Alexander's "My Child Will Forgive Me," previously lost on the theatergoer are tremendous when given to these enormous talents. This is not meant to pooh-pooh the original, fantastic cast, but there is just something about the way the tour works that makes for a truly great evening of theatre. Sure, the first act is a bit long and the second act is a little drug out, but these are minor quibbles. I feel the need to correct myself.

The first half of the first act is a little slow- it is not until the incandescent "There is a Fountain/It Don't Make Sense" that we realize that this is a deeply emotional piece- but the second half, the trial, is the most intense half an hour in theatrical history. Song after song brings you deeper into the hell that was the Leo Frank trial, epitomizing in Part 8, "That's What He Said." Parade tells the dark, dark, dark story of Leo Frank, the superintendent of a pencil factory in 1913 Atlanta. A 13 year-old girl, Mary Phagan is found dead in his basement, and he is falsely (?) accused of murdering, and maybe raping, her. We are lead to believe that he was not the true murderer, but we are never told for sure exactly who the killer is. He is convicted in a trial that is best described as a circus, in which bogus, coached testimony is read to accuse Leo Frank, the villain. Not Leo Frank, the man, but Leo Frank, the villain. In the second act, Lucille Frank goes on a rampage to get the governor to reopen the case. When the governor finally listens up, he changes Leo's sentence to life in prison, not the death penalty. After this, all hell breaks loose, and we are sent spiraling to one of the most depressing, yet oddly inspiring ending to a musical ever.

The performances on display, on the whole, are stellar. Andrea Burns brings a new timidity to the role of Lucille, and her singing voice is downright gorgeous. David Pittu, while not as strong in voice, brings out both the bright and dark points in the complex character of Leo Frank. Keith Byron Kirk is surprising as Jim Conley, a formerly clown-esque character made three dimensional by this superior actor and singer. The rest of the cast is equally superior, especially in the ensemble numbers.

The set design, by Ricardo Hernanadez, is functional yet very large for a touring show, as are the beautiful period costumes by Judith Dolan and the colorful lighting design by Howell Binkley. The orchestrations and orchestra were lovingly developed, probably because the composer was in the pit. I am glad to see that Mr. Brown insisted on having the same size orchestra and cast as the original Broadway production. The material really does require such a large cast and orchestra.

Let it be said that, on a whole, Parade is the darkest and most intense musical I have come across in quite some time, and it is definitely not for everyone. However, if you can handle suspense and a surprising amount of difficult material, this musical is well worth the effort.

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