by | May 14, 2024

Review by Tim Garratt

Soon after becoming Broadway’s most lauded revival of the season, Parade arrived last July at Chapel off Chapel, staged by a Melbourne independent theatre company, Soundworks Productions. The run was a sell-out success, and now Soundworks’ staging (directed by Mark Taylor) is playing to Sydney audiences for a short time.

With a book by Driving Miss Daisy’s award-winning writer Alfred Uhry, and music and lyrics by three-time Tony-winner Jason Robert Brown, Parade tells a true story from the American Deep South in the early twentieth century. In 1913, in a climate of rampant antisemitism, Leo Frank (Aaron Robuck) was a Jewish American pencil factory manager, who was wrongly accused of murdering a 13-year-old employee, Mary Phagan (Adeline Hunter). Despite a lack of credible evidence, Frank was convicted at trial and sentenced to death. And while the determined efforts of his wife, Lucille (Montana Sharp), to have his case re-examined had some success, Frank still ultimately lost his life because of the deep-seated bigotry in his community.

Frank’s story stirred both positive and negative action, impelling the establishment of the Anti-Defamation League (dedicated to fighting antisemitism), while also leading to the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan.

Parade is a confronting reminder of the terrible consequences of fear and hatred pervading society, and the culpability of bystanders who disagree with the mob but remain silent. More than a hundred years after Frank’s death, Parade’s central themes resonate strongly in the global political climate, with senseless prejudice and animosity remaining a catalyst for death and destruction.

Uhry’s dramatisation of events is compelling, and Brown’s score further draws us in to Frank’s plight, weaving together several genres including blues, gospel and jazz, as well as more traditional Broadway fare. Particularly effective is ‘The Old Red Hills of Home’, which bookends the piece. Initially, the song is a rousing celebration of American Southern patriotism and pride, but as the show progresses, it evokes on a far more sinister tone, highlighting how easily pride can descend to jingoism and irrational fear of the outsider. The satisfying reproduction of Brown’s wonderful score by 10 musicians, led by musical director Mark Bradley, is one of the biggest achievements of this production.

In transferring from the 255-seat Chapel Theatre to the Seymour’s Everest Theatre (seating 505), Soundworks has done well in re-scaling the production, making good use of the larger stage. Harry Gill’s set, consisting mainly of timber flooring and tall timber beams, is simple but well-conceived as a space for the various scenes and events in Uhry’s text to play out.

Taking on the role of Frank, Robuck is highly sympathetic and convincing in his portrayal of the factory manager, who finds his freedom swiftly taken from him and who is unable to overcome his peers’ profound prejudices. Sharp, playing Lucille, gives the standout vocal performance of the night, and succeeds in depicting a woman steadfastly devoted to securing her husband’s freedom. Nic Davey-Greene lends integrity to Governor John Slaton, who commutes Frank’s death sentence to life in prison after discovering the trial was a farce. Liam Wigney is highly effective as Tom Watson, the face of the right-wing extremists resolved to target Frank, regardless of his innocence or guilt. Meanwhile, Hunter is well cast as the victim of the crime that is overshadowed by the blind hatred of Frank’s accusers.

On opening night, it felt as though performers were still settling into their new surroundings, though this will no doubt resolve as the run progresses. That said, large ensemble numbers on opening night were impressively sung, culminating in a finale that powerfully concluded the piece.

Parade is a timeless, potent and provocative work, lamenting critical lessons the world should have – but has not – learned. Take up the rare chance to see it in Sydney over the next fortnight.




Dates: Now playing until Saturday, 25 May 2024

Venue: Everest Theatre, Seymour Centre (Cnr City Rd and Cleveland St, Chippendale)
To purchase tickets, click here.


Photo credit: Matthew Chen

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