Review: Parade (StageWorks Toronto)

DSC_1829_1118

Parade, a StageWorks Toronto production at the George Ignatieff Theatre, tells the true story of Leo Frank—Jewish and from Brooklyn—who becomes the superintendent of an Atlanta pencil factory and is the last to see Mary Phagan, a young worker, alive.

This musical is set against the backdrop of a South that is proud and angry, still recovering from the Confederate defeat some 50 years prior. The year is 1913 and, deep in the heart of Georgia, Leo Frank is wrongly convicted of the murder of Mary Phagan.

The first act begins with a set-up of the conflict between Frank and the people of Atlanta. Frank’s identity as a Jewish man, and a “yankee”, sets him apart. Also, his guarded nature doesn’t help endear him to the community. To them, he seems the obvious murderer—not just of Mary Phagan, but also the “purity” of the South.

The second act follows his wife Lucille’s attempt to re-open his case, whereby she exposes the many underhanded means by which the prosecution secured false testimonies and decided her poor husband’s fate. Despite the hopeful tone of the second act, Frank is nevertheless hung—the victim of vigilante justice.

The production itself is exceptional. The set, by Michelle Tracey, has a minimalist and charming hewn-wood aesthetic. The cast is skilled and spirited. The ensemble sequences are particularly well-excuted. Director and choreographer, Lorraine Green-Kimsa, manages to create an atmosphere that is both stylized and natural. The movements are fluid and hypnotic, but grounded by a sense of reality.

Scott Labonte, as Leo Frank, seamlessly transforms from an awkward and guarded businessman to a vulnerable and courageous husband. Lauren Lazar, as Lucille, is elegant and affecting, a perfect blend of proper Southern poise and fierce determination.

But, for me, the standout performance of the evening was that of Twaine Ward as both Newt Lee, the nightwatchman who finds Mary Phagan, and Jim Conley, another suspect who was pressured to give false testimony damning Frank.

His portrayal of Newt as he remembers finding Mary’s body is vivid and haunting. In stark contrast, his turn as Jim Conley is a guilty pleasure. He commands the stage in a gleeful and sleazy spectacle that is both seductive and repulsive.

While the production itself is excellent on all counts, I am not particularly fond of the text. I was suitably entertained by the upbeat and sleazy numbers (as the community gets caught up in a frenzy of deceit and self-righteousness), but found myself rolling my eyes at the more earnest and heartfelt songs.

When I mentioned this to my guest, she confessed to me that she is often made melancholic by musicals. She can’t help but feel that she’s become too cynical to be completely swept away by the naked sincerity of an actor singing his or her heart out.

And I wondered: Are we now jaded, her and I? I don’t think so. 

At a certain age and after some life experience, heartfelt and sincere just aren’t enough anymore; the writing must also be good. And that is the essence of my problem with Parade; Jason Robert Brown’s lyrics are just too banal for my taste.

All things considered, Parade is very entertaining. It is lively and polished with a provocative story to tell. My particular tastes aside, it is everything you’d expect from a dramatic musical.

Details:

  • Parade is playing at the George Ignatieff Theatre (15 Devonshire Place) until August 18, 2013.
  • Shows run Thursday through to Sunday at 8pm, with additional matinees on the Saturday and Sunday at 2pm
  • All tickets $25, reserved seating. Tickets can be purchased online in advance, up until 2 hours prior to show time. In person box office sales at the George Ignatieff Theatre open 1 hour prior to each performance.
  • For more details, visit the StageWorks Toronto website, or call the box office at 416-803-5287

Photo of the Cast by Nicholas Jones.