With their well-received debut production of 1984, Feather Theatre Company confidently and capably announced their arrival on the DST scene. Now with an ambitious musical at The Assembly Rooms Theatre, they had the opportunity to further cement their reputation. I’m pleased to confirm that they achieved this and more, with a fantastically moving and powerful production.
Parade is not your average musical. It tells the tragic story Leo Frank (Matthew Green), who is accused of murdering thirteen-year-old Mary Phagan (Emily Germon). The local community subsequently subjects him to an anti-Semitic character assassination during his trail. The musical is even more harrowing due to the fact that it is based on real events.
Working with such a large cast could have proved problematic. Occasionally the stage did feel over-crowded and some movements were restricted. However, the large cast provided the opportunity to showcase the vast number of talented individuals involved. Scenes where the whole cast were present, such as in the court and the mob scene, were highly effective due to some clever and effective blocking. Other than a couple of exceptions, the chorus remained in character at all times, even when not directly involved in the action. Some of the harmonies created were simply beautiful and powerful, notably “It Is Time Now” and “Where Will You Stand When The Flood Comes”.
I could praise several of the cast members at great length. Green quite simply stole the show in the lead role. His role was a challenging one, requiring him to show the vulnerability and anxiety of Frank, which he seemed to handle with ease. He was heart breaking in his final song, and the earnestness of his hope during “This Is Not Over Yet Heart” was fantastic. His voice and characterization were truly first rate. Lotte Jones also shone as Lucille Frank. Although her acting didn’t quite match the depth and versatility of Green’s, she had wonderful sincerity in her performance and her voice was simply stunning. The chemistry between her and Green was touching and believable, meaning their beautiful picnic scene made the climax of the play even more harrowing.
Sam Westwood (Governor Slaton) and Jake Goldman (Hugh Dorsey) should also be commended. Both had fantastic stage presence – Goldman convincingly portrayed the ruthless villainy of Dorsey, whilst Westwood had effortless charm and charisma. I was taken aback by how believable Germon was as a thirteen-year-old, and the voice she displayed was effortlessly beautiful. Eleanor George (Mrs Phagan) proved to be another highlight with her rendition of “My Child Will Forgive Me” moving me to tears. Whilst Sam Brumal’s (Frankie Epps) acting often felt rather forced, he more than made up for it with his flawless singing. Despite smaller roles, for me Emmanuel Adeagbo and Rachelle Ojomo had two of the most wonderful voices I have ever heard on The Assembly Rooms Theatre stage.
Credit must also be given to the fantastic set. The raised stage gave a sense of grandeur, making the court scene particularly impressive. The use of the sheer curtain and nooses were also highly effective. Technical Director Ben Fox certainly deserves praise, as the lighting and smoke were used to great effect, creating moods of foreboding, eeriness and menace throughout various points of the play, adding to, rather than distracting from, the action.
There were definitely minor issues with the production. Despite being absolutely fantastic and certainly noteworthy, the band were occasionally too loud, meaning the audience were unable to hear the actors at times, which led to a rather disappointing opening scene. There was also an issue with microphones creating an annoying crackling sound at various points. However, these are only minor problems, and the fact that these were the only flaws worth mentioning should serve in highlighting the strength of the production as a whole.
Last but not least, directors Lewis Martins and Ross Norman, as well as choreographer Joanna Boyle should be highly commended. In fact, the choreographed scenes, such as Frank’s puppet dance during “Come Up To My Office”, and the dance at the close of Act One, were some of the most impactful moments of the play. The directors have succeeded in creating a phenomenal piece of theatre, whilst sensitively handing some harrowing themes. The climactic scenes of the play were breathtaking, and rarely have I felt so moved watching a musical. So many elements of this production effectively showcased some of the finest talent that DST has to offer. For me, this production is unmissable, and the standing ovation from many audience members at its close was truly deserved.