Parade is one of the lesser known musicals and on first reading the synopsis, you would probably put it to the bottom of your "Musicals I Must See" bucket list - I know I did. However, it is a compelling, heart-wrenching story that is very affecting and the memory of it will stay with you for a long time - more so because it is a true story.
Without giving too much away, the plot centres around the murder of a 13 year old girl, Mary Phagan and what happens to the man suspected of killing her, Leo Frank, who was also her employer. It is set in 1913 in Georgia.
This is not your usual fun and flippant musical. The subject matter is grim and heavyweight with themes of prejudice and antisemitism. However, MAODS handled it like true professionals and I left the theatre wanting to come back the next day and see it all over again.
I have never seen such a strong ensemble. They are powerful...in fact, I'd say they are quite fierce and intense, whilst at the same time, uplifting. The opening and closing renditions of 'The Old Red Hills of Home' are extraordinarily chilling and the sheer power in all those voices is magnificent and very moving. The hairs on the back of my neck were standing up, I was completely in the moment watching them.
Sam Maurice's portrayal of Leo Frank is professional and convincing and although the character is not particularly empathetic to begin with, he does transform into someone who we are rooting for. One wonderful scene occurs in the Courtroom when we are hearing various versions of events...and Leo is portrayed as a totally different character to how we have seen him so far. This involves a complete character change which is slickly demonstrated using music and choreography. I loved it. I also loved the way Leo transforms back to his normal self at the end of the scene. It is a totally mesmerising performance.
Sophie Lord plays Leo's wife, Lucille. She is a strong, brave woman and Sophie captures this perfectly. Not only that, she has a simply outstanding and beautiful singing voice which is a joy to listen to.
Congratulations also to Caroline Featherstone who takes the role of Mary Phagan. Caroline is one of the younger members of the cast but she handles this role with ease and professionalism.
Another standout scene for me was the chain gang. Simply done yet so striking and effective with the use of lighting and clapping. Fola Olakunbi as Jim Conley completely made this scene his own with his strong yet smooth vocals and confident portrayal.
I found Mr Dorsey (Billy Pretsell) to be completely intimidating, predatory, disturbing and sinister. Billy Pretsell encompasses every nasty little aspect of this character who whips the people up into a vengeance seeking, bloodthirsty mob.
The direction is excellent and praise must go to James Schofield (Director) who has done an amazing job. The stage space itself is extremely well utilised and is partially in the round so the cast walk on from both sides which makes it much more immersive and real.
The choreography is wonderful and the dancing scene at the Governor's house ('Pretty Music') was lovely to watch and so much more than the usual makeshift shuffling. I spotted a fair amount of swing and sway and I must comment on Mr Dorsey's (Billy Pretsell) footwork which is faultless, as is his rise and fall! Congratulations to Katherine Farrow who has made such a wonderful impact with the choreography.
I completely loved the lighting which is used to such great effect - denoting flashbacks, building atmosphere and creating such tension.
Praise must also go to the band, led by Musical Director, Paul Firth. The music is eerie and haunting most of the time but is occasionally interspersed with moments of jollity which are juxtapositioned against the bleakness and horror of the situation and the band produced a wonderful sound which was chilling, yet mesmerising.
The acting is spectacular. The portrayal of all the characters totally convincing. The singing is strong and I'd go as far as to say exceptional. This is one extraordinarily talented Company who have set the bar extremely high. Every single person in this production is 100% a professional.
To all the creative team and the cast, I say a huge and heartfelt 'well done' and 'thank you' for a simply magnificent evening. It is obvious that everyone involved with this production has worked so very hard and I can tell you it has really paid off. Some productions are quite simply life changing and make you thankful that you've seen them. This is one of them.
This is an absolutely jaw-dropping, gut-wrenching production which deserves to play to a full house every night because the cast have thrown their heart and soul into it. Go and see it in all its flag waving, confederate glory before the Parade leaves town on Saturday!
Reviewer: Nicky Lambert
Reviewed: 24th April 2017
North West End Rating: ★★★★★