Friday, August 4, 2023

REVIEW: Parade (2023 Revival Cast Recording)

REVIEW: Parade 
(2023 Broadway Revival Cast Recording)

That Jason Robert Brown's Tony-winning score for Parade was worthy and wonderful back in 1999 was never seriously in doubt. But this 2023 Broadway Revival Cast Recording solidifies its place in Broadway history as one of the great scores of the 20th century. And what makes this recording an invaluable addition to any musical theater fan's collection is the exquisite sound quality and uniformly sterling performances of the entire company. The orchestrations by Brown and the late great Don Sebesky are as much the star of this recording as anything else.

It is when - every single time - the company sings as one that just listening to it makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up, while my mind swirls with the memories of witnessing this first hand several weeks ago. "The Old Red Hills of Home" alone makes this recording a must-have. Even as a supporting group of back up singers, the company wows time and again with their stunning choral mix, superb diction and overwhelming emotion.

Led by Ben Platt as Leo Frank, and Micaela Diamond as his wife, Lucille Frank, this definitive recording is in excellent hands. Neither over-indulge in any self-aggrandizing in their vocals here. Instead, wonderfully, they each give complete performances as meticulously acted as they are sung. Platt surely shows his most mature and thoughtful work here, from the contemplative "How Can I Call This Home?" to the sinister "Come Up to My Office" to the tragic "Sh'ma." His emotional range is awesome, in the truest sense of the word. Meanwhile, Diamond gives a heartbreaking, sturdy turn as a dutiful wife turned heroine. Her solo numbers "You Don't Know This Man" and "Do It Alone" are nothing short of masterful, full-blown arias, perhaps even more powerful here than in theatrical performance. That said, the recording nearly explodes in musical glory in their two showpiece duets, "This Is Not Over Yet" and "All the Wasted Time." Both songs and their singers are stunning and sublime.

So many individual cast members get their moments to shine on this perfect companion piece to the production. Each individual is a stand-out, for sure, but for me, here are the stand-outs that really stand out:
  • Charlie Webb (Young Soldier) who starts the whole recording with the powerful opening to "The Old Red Hills of Home," a combination of heroic determination, wistful loneliness, and a touching undercurrent of fear.
  • Howard McGillin (Old Soldier) stuns in the years later end of that same song, with fierce pride, a sad longing, and a touching undercurrent of failure. Later, as Judge Roan, he is powerful, if misguided, in "The Glory."
  • Paul Alexander Nolan (Hugh Dorsey) impresses throughout, especially in "Somethin' Ain't Right" where his ambition is at old with his ineptitude. And his duet with McGillin, "The Glory," is a startling reminder of today's political climate.
  • Alex Joseph Grayson (Jim Conley) is truly chilling and brazen in his chain gang number, "Blues: Feel the Rain Fall." This is a performance I won't soon forget.
  • Douglas Lyons (Riley) and Courtnee Carter (Angela) start Act Two off with a wry and pointed delivery about the pecking order of social (in)justice with "A Rumblin' and a Rollin'."
There are two performances here, though, that are superlative and give me great hope for the future of American musical theatre: Jake Pederson (Frankie Epps) and Erin Rose Doyle (Mary Phagan), both of whom made their Broadway debuts in Parade. Pederson's journey from love-struck hayseed - as evidenced by his thick Southern drawl in "The Picture Show" - to a radicalized rebel is a shocking one. You can hear him mature - as evidenced by his much less severe drawl that helps reveal his growing anger in both "There Is a Fountain/It Don't Make Sense" and "Frankie's Testimony." On just the recording alone, he amazes. Perhaps even more miraculous is that Doyle makes such an impression with as little time as she has on this recording - her role in the show is a much larger presence. Yet her teasing joy in "The Picture Show" only makes her journey even more tragic with her haunting delivery during "Frankie's Testimony." Notable, too, is that even on the recording, you can feel her presence in "The Factory Girls/Come Up to My Office."

I don't think I'll ever be able to put fully into words the profundity of the impact that this production has had on me. Rarely a day goes by that I don't think about it. I - and you - should be thankful that this masterpiece has been preserved.

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