Parade is a Musical by Brown and Uhry which bravely tells the story of the American Jewish man, Leo Frank, wrongly accused of murdering a thirteen year old girl at their workplace. The year is 1913, and the state, Georgia. It is only 50 years since the Civil War, and Frank has come down to Atlanta from Brooklyn. Despite it being clear to all that Frank was not the killer, the town needs to avenge the murder, and either for personal or political ambition, the townsfolk are prepared to commit perjury in order to see justice done. After all, they all needed their scapegoat – the South lost to the North, and yet they still hang on to their beliefs that all non-whites are inferior, and he is from the North and Jewish.
After a lengthy legal battle, Georgia`s Governor commutes Franks sentence from death by hanging to life imprisonment as he sees that the evidence given at the trial was inconclusive, circumstantial and more than probably untrue. Despite this ruling though, a lynch mob which included the future Governor of the State and some old soldiers from the Civil War still take him out of prison and hang him anyway.
This is a true story, and the actors are playing, by and large, actual historical figures, despite so little being known about them. Its an extremely powerful and moving story, and in the course of the 2 and a half hours, takes the audience on a real roller- coaster of emotions. The power and evil of a mob mentality pitched against the unlikely blossoming of the love and respect that Leo and his wife develop whilst he is in prison.
For those not familiar with the venue, Hope Mill Theatre is a small and very new Fringe Theatre situated in Ancoats on the outskirts of the city. It is an extremely lovely theatre and very versatile, and for this show they had made absolute maximum use of the theatre, and designed a set by Victoria Hinton, which was not only brilliant but worked extremely well too, making great and innovative use of space.
Musically it was solid, and Musical Director Tom Chester created a full orchestral sound with just a small band of extremely talented musicians and the singing, in general, was West End quality.
Why then, with all these superlatives, did I leave the theatre feeling a little confused and dissatisfied?
The answer lies in the actual directing and retelling of the story. It was quite a large cast; 15 performers; but they were not enough since many played either two or even three roles throughout. Herein lay the confusion. For example; the very start of the Musical sees Aidan Banyard as a young Confederate soldier standing alone in a field in Marietta, Georgia in 1862 looking and sounding very much like a young Michael Ball, and in the next scene which follows immediately from this, that same actor is now a young Frankie Epps asking if he can take a 13 year old girl out to the Pictures in the year 1913. There is no costume change, no voice change, and to all intents and purposes it is the same character. This happens all the way through the show, and is particularly confusing when there is only one black male actor, and he plays three different characters without any accent change, physical change or any noticeable and definable costume change.
However, that being said, it still packs a very powerful punch and at least the main plot is clearly defined, the actors playing Leo Frank and his wife remained constant throughout.
Leo Frank was played by Tom Lloyd, and he was truly magnificent. There was a moment in the court scene where he sings and dances around the girls, and although we know this is not a real flashback but an enactment of one of the girls` lies we still question ourselves as to whether or not he might be guilty since this was so smoothly and superbly done. Could he be schizophrenic and have a dual personality? A lovely actor, very easy to watch and totally convincing.
Playing opposite him was Laura Harrison as his wife Lucille. A lovely actress and very natural. Her singing voice was somewhat screechy and ear-piercingly harsh though. Matt Mills played the three male black characters in the show, and was extremely personable and had a lovely voice. Such a pity there was a lack of direction for him, and others, to really change their characters to assist the audience`s understanding and enjoyment.
I did enjoy though Andrew Gallo`s interpretation of Hugh Dorsey, Georgia`s Governor-in- the-wings; and Ben Carlson who played Judge Roan. (and also an old soldier with a walking stick! – the only really obvious physical and costume change in the show).
James Baker directs this production very well and competently with a very effective use of the stage, maximising the playing area and forcing the audience to move their heads to see parts of the action taking place either behind them or to their sides. This makes the audience much more complicit in the story that unfolds and this worked extremely well. The characters that remained constant were solid and undeniably firm and fixed, however, as I have already mentioned more than once, the whole thing fell down because we were not able to distinguish enough difference between multi-part actors.
The only other comment I would make is with the lighting. The LX plot is wonderful – very atmospheric and interesting. Again maximising the desk to capacity. However, there were several blackouts at the end of chorus numbers where there is a definite end and scene change, which happens far too soon. The blackout occurred on two occasions even before the cast had finished singing and the music was still playing.
This show is a Manchester premiere and is on until the 11th June (They have just added a week), and despite my slight negativity, they may well be the hottest tickets in town right now! It really is a thought-provoking story of epic proportions and is certainly not the kind of Musical you will come away from tap dancing down the street to the catchy tunes you have just heard, certainly don`t expect that. But if you do go, prepare to be challenged,appalled, outraged, and also proud and uplifted.