Parade – by Fighting Chance Productions
Until April 29th
I can’t get this show out of my head for two reasons. 1) It is a powerful story and score remarkably presented and 2) I am so blown away by the company and the leading man and how much both and have grown in the past five years.
Parade is a musical with a book by Alfred Uhry and music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown. It is based on a true story about a Jewish man named Leo Frank was convicted in 1913 of the rape and murder of a 13-year-old girl in Georgia. Nasty bitterness resulting from the civil war had the volatile people out for blood but in this case anti-Semitic sentiments out weigh the racist ones.
The set design by Tim Driscoll with its rope tree is powerful and the giant wall representing the factory where the murder took place is as unmovable and ominous as the stiffly smiling Georgians. The lighting by Randy Carlston is also brilliant, able to convey a multitude of locations.
The band under the brilliantly rendered musical direction of Clare Wyatt is simply astonishing particularly when you find out there are only four of them. Choreographer Adriana Ravalli creates a myriad of eye pleasing patterns with pizazz.
Ryan Mooney directs with a light but nuanced touch. It would be easy for this cast to play all the villains as moustache twirling archetypes and for all the victims as overly simplistic sad sacks. But he honors the script that allow for our protagonist Leo to have enough social foibles that he is sometimes the cause of the hatred felt towards by the proud but horrified citizenry. Even the very racist characters are played with tempered performances letting their words and actions speak for them without overplaying it.
The cast is fantastically adept with the score and book with some remarkable standouts including Sean Anthony as the crooked D.A. and JP McLean as the reporter. Ricardo Cunha Pequino, William Tippery and Jagen Johnson also shine.
Advah Soudack is the only professional equity actress in the production she is simply lovely as the quiet but determined wife. Her singing voice is like velvet on the ear swooping and soaring with a truth and moment-to-moment discoveries.
Bravo though to the whole cast, they handle the wildly varied songs with polish and style. Kaden Chad, Karliana Dewolff, Colton Fyfe, Rachel Garnet, Raymond Hatton, Debbie Kagy, Kaila Kask, Steven Mulligan, Steve Oben, Alina Quarin, Christine Reinfort, Lucinda Sim, Peter Slade, Emily Smith, Keri Smith, Tiana Swan, and Tristin Wayte all bring a ground gravitas covered with a icy cheer making the balancing act layered and human.
But my main point to why I was so impressed with the show is tied directly to the production company.
Ryan Mooney is the artistic director of this amateur theatre company and over past ten years they have produced something like 47 shows. That is a lot of shows and there have been some gems and some that clearly need more work and skilled artists to pull off. But talent becomes more refined with time, it needs experience to grow and this show is a very mature and uniquely wonderful accomplishment.
That is also true of the leading actor. Riley Sandbeck burst onto the scene about 4 or 5 years ago and right away demonstrated a remarkable singing voice and he cut a handsome figure. But often his earlier work was simply earnest if a little shallow as it would be with any new artist.
But he does an exceptional performance here as Leo Frank. He layers in darkness, naiveté and bombast to make the character come to life warts and all. Mr. Frank is often his own worst enemy when the charges are laid. His singing is full of passion and want and his technic is impressive. He was riveting and completely engaging.
Some of the credit goes to Fighting Chance productions, since they don’t pay their actors union rates, they can afford to produce big musicals and young actors like Mr. Sandbeck can get several opportunities to experiment and grow in a variety of roles.
Sure there are some ill-fitting costumes, a couple of oddly long blackouts and a few of the scenes dip too far into sentimentality but that is to be somewhat expected and forgiveable.
So I can’t get this show out of my head because of the noteworthy production and impressive performances in particular Mr. Sandbeck and I highly recommend it. Bravo Ryan and Fighting Productions.
David C. Jones