Review by: Paul Towers, 04 September 2017
Parade by Jason Robert Brown
Leicester Amateur Operatic Society production
Curve – 4 – 9 September 2017
“a musical triumph.”
Looking back from the 21st century the last hundred years have produced some truly appalling travesties of justice and the case of Leo Frank was a low point even for the early 20th century.
In 1913, just 50years after the American Civil War, a Brooklyn born Jew called Leo Frank, married to local girl Lucille, is feeling increasingly alienated from the local townsfolk.
Working as a supervisor in a local factory, Leo is responsible for paying wages. Just as the Confederate Memorial parade is due to start a local 14 year old girl, Mary Phagan, comes for her pay. Later that day her body is found in the basement of the factory.
The initial suspicion falls on Newt Lee, the black night watchman. But then Leo Frank is arrested. Feeling that they have strung up far too many blacks lately, the prosecutor, Hugh Dorsey, is pressured into making sure Leo is found guilty. To that end many witnesses are either blackmailed or bullied into making false statements against him and he is found guilty and sentenced to hang.
His wife, Lucille, takes it upon herself to persuade the Governor to commute the sentence to life imprisonment. Which he does eventually
Unfortunately some of the locals take the law into their own hands, break into the prison and kidnap Leo. After forcing him to confess to something he didn’t do they brutally lynch him.
Jason Robert Brown has managed to take a truly horrible crime and subsequent miscarriage of justice and turn it into a musical triumph.
As always the performers from LAOS excel themselves with the kind of singing voices worthy of any mainstream theatre company.
Especial mention must be made of Tom Mottram as Leo Frank. His ability to portray the Woody Allen-esque whining of the supervisor but then transform instantly in a fantasy sequence into a leering sexual predator is amazing.
Tim Stokes as Frankie Epps leads much of the action with great stage presence and a fine voice. Joshua Harding as Newt Lee has a wonderful deep voice full of soul while James Summers as Jim Conley adds a nice contemporary feel to his two stand out songs.
To add to the immediacy of the musical numbers there is a live band hidden behind the back cloth.
The staging is quite minimalist with a pair of stairs moving around the stage to provide vantage points, walls and stairs while furniture props are brought on and off as required by the cast.
On the face of it this is not the stuff of musical theatre but it works
Parade is at Curve until 9th September
First published on Western Gazette