Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Musical Spotlight: Parade

It's musical spotlight time! Sometimes I have trouble thinking of what to include, but for whatever reason, this time I had the sudden thought, "Obviously I should write about Parade," and then it just seemed like the obvious choice, so here I am.

Parade was the first Jason Robert Brown musical I ever fell in love with, though my friend Sarah had tried in vain to get me into The Last 5 Years. I was on a cast recording kick. I'd listened to everything our local library had to offer (lots of Andrew Lloyd Webber) and wanted to branch out, so I borrowed albums one at a time through interlibrary loan. I'd look up the show synopsis if it wasn't printed in the liner notes and follow along with the songs to get a sense of how they fit into the context of the show. I discovered quite a few of my favorites this way.

This musical is a dark dramatization of the true story of Leo Frank, a Jewish factory manager living in Georgia in 1913. He was convicted of raping and murdering a 13-year-old girl who worked in his factory and was given the death penalty. The trial was a media sensation and served to strengthen antisemitic feelings in the state. After the trial closed, the governor of Georgia reviewed all the testimony from the trial and changed Frank's sentence to life in prison, only for Frank to be kidnapped and hanged by a lynching party who feel justice was not served.

This was JRB's second major musical and his Broadway debut, which won the Tony Award for Best Score but, like way too many of his shows, it closed pretty quickly, after only two months. It's since gained a lot of respect in the theater community. Its most recent major showing was a one-night Lincoln Center concert starring Jeremy Jordan and Laura Benanti as the Franks.

Here are my five favorite songs from the show, in order of appearance! All come from the original Broadway cast recording, which you should immediately purchase if you like these.

1. The Old Red Hills of Home

This song opens the show and gives us a strong sense of location. It begins with a young Georgia soldier about to go fight in the American Civil War, and then flashes forward to 1913, when that same soldier is now a one-legged veteran participating in the Confederate Memorial Day parade. The song is full of love for the state and passionate defense of it. While at the beginning it is powerful and inspirational, as the show goes on, we begin to see that the rush to defend Georgia at all costs is fueling some of the antisemitic views throughout.

2. How Can I Call This Home?

Shortly after that passionate song about life in Georgia, we get this song, introducing us to Leo Frank. He's married a Georgia girl and moved here from Brooklyn, but he just isn't comfortable here and he knows he never will be. While this song encompasses a lot of different reasons Leo feels he can't make this his home, I've always found a connection to it through being an introvert living among extroverts at various points in my life. As a whole, the song is a mournful, frustrated tune about feeling constantly like an outcast and wishing you could be somewhere where you wouldn't feel like that.

3. It Don't Make Sense

After 13-year-old Mary Phagan is found dead, this heartbreaking song is sung at her funeral. With a dark, ominous version of "There Is a Fountain" playing in the background, Mary's friends sing about their memories of their friend, and Mary's sometime-boyfriend ends his tribute with a furious diatribe against whoever did this to her. The song is haunting and sad in capturing the senselessness of such a horrible act and how it impacts all the people Mary knew.

4. Come Up to My Office

This song is not part of the linear plot, but a dark fantasy sequence taken from the testimony of the factory girls who falsely testify that Leo looked at Mary "funny." As they give their testimony, Leo "becomes the lecherous seducer of their testimony" (as the Wikipedia summary puts it), singing an ominous, creepy song seducing the girls up to his office with food and "things [she] might like to see." It's an eerie look into how the people now perceive Leo, and as the music builds, you can almost hear the townspeople's fear building as well.

5. All the Wasted Time

One of Brown's all-time best love songs (and he's done some quite good ones), this one focuses on the relationship between Leo and his wife Lucille. Throughout the show, they are strange and distant toward each other, but as Leo finds himself in dire need, the two end up falling in love all over again. In this scene, they lament that it took this long for the two of them to truly discover each other. It's a lovely song, performed here by the original stars Brent Carver and Carolee Carmello.

Those are my favorite songs from Parade! Share your own favorites, add your thoughts on the songs I shared here, or suggest the next Musical Spotlight blog I should write!

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