Parade by Jason Robert Brown is probably one of the most underrated musicals ever written. It is totally captivating from beginning to end with a powerful score and gripping storyline, the only down side is that it is not performed very often in this country.
The musical is a dramatization of the 1913 trial, imprisonment and subsequent lynching, of Jewish American Leo Frank in Georgia. Tonight, Cutting Edge Productions brought this story to Theatre Deli in Sheffield where it continues until Saturday (13th November). https://www.cuttingedgetheatreco.com/
The lead role of Leo Frank requires an accomplished actor to play him, and tonight Dylan Lambert shone. His attention to detail in the role was impressive, he portrayed an introverted character with an inner determination to get personal justice alongside a terror for what was happening to him. His body language throughout was fascinating to watch down to the seemingly uncontrollable body shakes in times of most fear. Add to this a spectacular voice, I would be astounded come award season if this young man didn’t feature highly in the honours list.
Bethan Griffiths as Lucille stands shoulder to shoulder with her on stage husband showcasing an equally spectacular vocal performance. Her journey from excitement about starting a family through Leo’s trial and the subsequent conclusion to the story was a roller coaster of emotions expertly portrayed. Another award winner in waiting.
Another stand out performance of the night for me was from Louise Webster as Mary Phagan. Webster captured the youth and playfulness of the 13-year-old with ease.
In many productions the role of factory night watchman Newt Lee, and factory janitor and ex-convict Jim Conley are played by the same actor. Tonight, Desrick Francis and Daniel Gardener played Newt and Jim respectively.
Hugh Dorsey, the man tasked with getting a conviction for murder is played by Joe Hamilton. Vocally good, I felt Hamilton could have explored the sinister side of the role a little further. Alongside officers Starnes (Ashley Wilson) and Ivey (Jeremy Craven), they came across as a little too nice for me.
I must make a special mention to the three young factory workers Iola (Isabelle Andrews), Monteen (Christina Limb) and Essie (Jade Robinson) who sounded amazing in their harmonies.
The ensemble supported the main cast well although I felt they didn’t gain full confidence or voice until midway through act 2, opening night nerves I am certain.
Director David Phillips has made good use of what is a small stage, restricted somewhat with the stunning band at the back under the direction of Gavin Usher-Schofield. With all the space the Deli has, to cram everything onto the small stage was a mistake. Some of the ensemble scenes looked cramped and was difficult to see all faces onstage.
I question the omission of Minnie (Leo Frank’s housekeeper), whilst I believe this was due to reasons beyond the company’s control, her input into the climatic court scene in act 1 has an impact on the audience’s perception of the final verdict. I noted some of her script was put into act 2, however this was then out of context and not as effective for me.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, Parade is so underrated, and I commend Cutting Edge for bringing the show to the stage. With 2 years planning (a certain virus delayed things) and just 7 weeks rehearsal all involved cannot walk away from this show without a huge sense of achievement.
The question remains however long after the show ends. Who really did kill Mary Phagan?
Reviewer: Paul Downham
Reviewed: 9th November 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★