Parade – Review

The Barnstormers
reviewed by Jenni Balow

This is a magnificent musical, and a stunning and powerful production, but there isn’t much Southern comfort in this true story surrounding the murder of a 13 year old factory girl in Atlanta, Georgia, and the conviction of her Jewish boss a century ago.

The title of the book refers to the Confederate Memorial Day Parade, during which young Mary Phagan is killed, after collecting her pay from Leo Frank, the factory superintendent, a fastidious and twitchy Jew, who hails from Brooklyn a long way to the north and is finding that “being in the South is like a foreign land”.

It was written by Alfred Uhry, who researched thousands of pages of testimonies from the month long trial. Chief among Frank’s accusers is Jim Conley, one of the factory’s black workers, and it is that racial mix that sparked huge interest from the Press, and politically weighted public protests from all sides.

The award winning Jason Robert Brown wrote the music and lyrics with the accent on the soul, gospel and blues of the South and The Barnstormers musical director Patrick Isbell and his orchestra, plus a huge cast and ensemble give us an aptly barnstorming blast of sound.

The stage is set by a huge American oak tree, brilliantly designed by Jill ‘Wigs’ Wilson with Martin Beatty, giving shade during the colourful flag-waving parade and the Governor’s tea dance, and playing its poignant part in the ultimately shocking end, in this production by Richard Allen and director Paul Longhurst, choreographed by Fran Newitt, with costumes by Monica Mickels.

There are many principals both amateur and professional, and they are all outstandingly good, and most especially Elizabeth Skinner as Lucille Frank, a superb singer and actor, Dominic Binefa, as her husband, Marcus Ayton as Jim Conley with his chain gang, Colin Warnock as the Governor, Steve Green as Dorsey, Charlotte Antoinette Mills, and Folarin Akinmade and Katanya Pierre-Louis, singing A Rumblin’ and A Rollin’.

Was Frank guilty? We’ll never know, but there’s no doubt that the drama and intensity never waned on this Parade.