Having run a mere ten, not-so-full weeks at the 1,100-seat Vivian Beaumont
Theatre, it is to be suspected that very many people will listen to the
original cast album of Jason Robert Brown's Parade without having had the
opportunity to see it. And I can just hear them now, angrily crying "wait a
minute, this stuff is good, damn those critics," and wondering how the show
could possibly have failed so resoundingly.
That's a good question, if you're judging the score by the disc. The
answer, I think, is that from the very beginning of the show -- in the
theatre -- you were hit with a feeling the creators were stacking the decks,
pulling every possible string to manipulate you into feeling whatever it was
they wanted you to feel. It was almost as if the production had a wall of
pretentiousness, emblazoned with the slogan "this show is artistic, and if
you don't like it that's your problem." At least that's the way I felt;
whatever the problem was, Parade sure antagonized its audiences.
And now comes the original cast album, displaying a score far better
more beautiful -- than it sounded in the theater. Brown's first Broadway
offering is intelligent, moving and highly impressive.
In the theater, the creators seemed to want you to dislike their leading
characters; presumably so they could turn it around in the second act, when
the pair became unlikely lovers. I disliked them all right, so much so that
I had little patience for anything they had to say or sing most of the
evening. This was especially the case with Brent Carver, playing the doomed
Leo Frank. Carver is an extremely talented actor, and he shines through on
the cast album with a warm and sympathetic performance. In the theater,
though, director Harold Prince and his collaborators apparently did not want
you to feel sympathy for Leo when he was railroaded for a crime he didn't
commit, thus presenting the audience with a moral dilemma. I certainly
didn't feel sympathy for Leo in the theater, so much so that his songs --
which are attractive and moving on the recording -- fell on singularly
unreceptive ears. Multiply that by dozens of reviewers and thousands of
viewers, and that might explain why Parade so quickly faltered.
Is there a future life for Parade? maybe as a small-scale chamber piece,
without all that production and all that acting and all that pretension?
Absent the various distractions, Jason Robert Brown's score is rich and
varied, and I imagine it will become even more enjoyable with repeated
listening. There is also an especially fine set of orchestrations from Don
Sebesky, who manages to keep up with Brown's many changes of pace and uses
his orchestra to comment on the action. I also suspect musical director Eric
Stern deserves a good deal of credit. Some of the major numbers, like "Real
Big News" and the extended trial sequence, are extremely complicated and
Let me also add that while not without flaws, this is easily the finest
score of the current, undernourished season. While it is uncommon for a
quick failure to take the Tony Award for Best Score over shows that are
still running, Parade just might be able to pull it off. A considerable
portion of the voters are out-of-towners, who were unable or unwilling to
make a special mid-winter trip solely to see this poorly received show.
(Theoretically, of course, Tony voters only vote in categories in which
they've seen all the nominees.) Listening to this disc -- and comparing it
to Footloose and The Civil War, so help us -- many voters might well wonder
how a show with such a high quality score could have failed, which I imagine
will be the reaction of many listeners.
Addendum: If you're like me, you took little notice of the cast recording
Brown's off off-Broadway revue, Songs for a New World, when it was released
in 1997 (also on RCA). Those of you suitably impressed with Parade might
want to get a hold of a copy. Three of the songs are especially good, "I'm
Not Afraid of Anything," "Stars and the Moon," and "I'd Give It All for
You." Some others are on the amateurish side -- especially an endless
Dietrich-imitation called "Surabaya-Santa" that might make you want to fling
the disc to the North Pole -- but Songs for a New World certainly forecasts
the Jason Robert Brown of Parade.
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