Don’t think of this as a review because, as I’ve pointed out, I’m not really a reviewer. Think of it as the words of a person who went to a show and wants to tell you how she enjoyed it in case you are looking for something to do over the next week or so.
There’s something you should know before I tell you how I feel about Parade – the musical. I am really not the biggest fan of musicals. I tell you this so you’ll understand how insanely picky I am about what I choose to watch. I like only a handful: Les Misérables, Cats, Into the Woods, Girls in the Gang. Sound of Music? NO. West Side Story? Blah. Phantom of the Opera? Please no more! And even though, like Les Misérables, Parade goes against my rules and portrays real-life people breaking into song and dance for no really good reason, somehow it worked.
It’s a little reminiscent of Les Misérables, though that may be reflective of the subject matter. Perhaps it was my proximity to the performers – George Ignatieff theatre is a small venue – but when these performers sang, it was apparent to me that they felt every single note, every single word, each and every drum beat. The band, by the way, was tremendous. Not once did I feel as if the band simply played and the performers were ‘laying a vocal track’ over the score. The band engaged each performer. To that end, the performers were listening to the band. All too often in shows, you can tell the performers are only listening to themselves. That was not the case in this show.
I was most impressed with Scott Labonte (Leo Frank). This is a lead character, but a character that could easily have been lost if not for Labonte’s keen sense of timing not only in his acting, but also his singing. Of note is a scene in the court room where Leo, as a memory, demonstrates the testimony of the local girls who work in his factory. Labonte switches from stuffy Jewish New Yorker, to slimy playboy factory superintendent with incredible ease.
Other notable performances include Luke Witt (Frankie Epps). He is unbelievably passionate, but demonstrated great control and mastery over songs that had him running the gamut of emotions.
When Lauren Lazar (Lucille Frank) sang, her voice is so sweet, but so incredibly strong and she is invested in this role. She is invested in Leo. I never doubted it for a moment.
When Andy Ingram (Britt Craig) takes to the stage to sing about just how he’s going to profit from what’s happened to Leo Frank, it’s like watching the inn keepers in Les Misérables or like a showman introducing a burlesque act. Wickedly good.
It’s one thing to have a good story to work with, but it’s quite another to turn that story into an intriguing stage production. I love a good true crime story and this one was no exception. The true story of Leo Frank and the murder of Mary Phagan is somewhat epic. How do you squeeze that into a two act musical drama? Pick up a ticket, you’ll see.
The couple sitting next to me stood at the end and on the way out of the theatre, the wife remarked that she had to find out the whole story. I remember thinking exactly the same thing and wishing that my phone wasn’t so close to dead so I could Google the story on my way home. This is a good thing – always make them think.
I think it’s also important to mention some acting performances that impressed me. Kelly Lovatt Hawkins (Sally Slaton) portrayed the Governor’s wife with subtlety and strength. Luke Slade (Luther Rosser) managed to make the defense attorney even more ‘slimy’ than the prosecutor, Will van der Zyl’s Hugh Dorsey. Both played their equally corrupt characters without ever taking it too far. Dorsey enraged me as much as Leo Frank’s ineffective defender who was completely bereft of humility.
My one difficulty with this production was the character of Mary Phagan. I felt like the whole package – costume, makeup, casting (Avra Fainer) may have been a little bit over the top. Luke Witt (Frankie Epps), stole the first act number, The Picture Show, though there was definitely good chemistry between the two characters. I remained, however, unable to accept Mary Phagan as a 13-year-old factory girl who became a victim. Rather, I pictured this spunky little creature fighting, biting and kicking until an inevitable escape. But, by the second act, her character is played as a memory and is more acceptably subtle.
This show is a great reminder that there’s some phenomenal theatrical talent in Toronto. The set was simple and exquisite. The costuming was quite elegant (when Leo asks Lucille if she is wearing a new outfit and tells her that it’s very becoming – it really is!) Parade – the musical runs until August 18th and the George Ignatieff Theatre at the University of Toronto. It’s a mere $25 to see and quite worth the price.