Album Review: Parade (Original London Cast 2007)


“Call for justice! We need justice!
Beat the bastard! Kill the bum!”

Based on historical events from the turn of the last century in Atlanta, Georgia, Jason Robert Brown and Alfred Uhry’s Parade has been something of a slow-burning theatrical success – its original 1998 Broadway run criminally short, ending way before it won 2 Tonys, but later tours and overseas productions cementing its reputation as a sterling piece of new musical theatre. In the UK, Southwark Playhouse had a grand production in 2011 but 2007 saw the Donmar deliver a work of small-scale genius which was captured in its entirety on this double-disc recording.

Perhaps not the most likely of subjects for a piece of musical theatre, the 1913 trial of Jewish factory manager Leo Frank – Bertie Carvel in the role here – for the rape and murder of a 13 year old employee Mary Phagan benefits hugely from the musical treatment. The trial caused a big media sensation in the US and forced an examination of the (not so) latent anti-Semitism in this southern state offering a wide range of opportunities to explore musical styles, estimably executed by Thomas Murray’s 9-strong band playing David Cullen’s new orchestrations. 

It is sometimes a little disconcerting to listen to Carvel, his distinctive voice somehow simultaneously recalling both his iconic Mrs Trunchbull and his recent Jonathan Strange whilst establishing his own Yankee Jew identity as Leo, but his character work really is second to none as ever. And paired with Lara Pulver as his long-suffering wife Lucille, they track the deeply moving, emotional rebirth of their marriage with aching beauty and great tunefulness, the slow realisation of the depth of their feeling for each other expertly played. 

There’s cracking vocal from all and sundry here in some truly evocative songs – Stuart Matthew Price’s elegiac ‘The Old Red Hills of Georgia’, Mark Bonnar’s superb ‘Twenty Miles From Marietta’, Helen Anker’s tear-soaked ‘My Child Will Forgive Me’ to name but three. And though Brown likes a Sondheim-esque fragmented approach, he also likes a big show-stopping tune. Led by Gary Milner’s journalist, the company glide through the seductive energy of ‘Real Big News’ and support the zealous born-again Christianity of ‘Hammer of Justice’, a sterling performance from Norman Bowman.

But it is Shaun Escoffery who really stands out, whether soulfully rocking out with Malinda Parris on ‘A-Rumblin’ and A-Rollin’’, dispensing his version of the truth on ‘That’s What He Said’, or injecting the chain gang with real gravitas in ‘Feel The Rain Fall’ – we really need to see him back onstage though we may have lost him to the world of music. Brown contributed new material for this production of Parade but it is the completeness of this cast recording that makes it stand out as a class act and a piece worthy of great recognition.

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