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The Age: PARADE- review

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See review in its original context here by Rebecca Harkins-Cross for The Age.

The Collective’s Parade explores the unsettling case of Leo Frank

While greats like Stephen Sondheim have repeatedly demonstrated that the musical is not only a place for lightness and frippery, Parade explores a particularly dark chapter of American history: the death in 1915 of Leo Frank, a Jew persecuted and lynched for a murder he didn’t commit.

There’s something rightly unsettling about a crowd of rosy-cheeked patriots singing about the former glory of Georgia beneath a Confederate Flag, and not only because that zeal will soon turn savage. The tone never quite befits the grave subject matter.

James Cutler has directed a very watchable production, delivered by a vigorous ensemble, but the play itself niggles somewhat. The audience is positioned like onlookers in the courtroom, but we’re never given the true drama of that theatre. The bible-waving publisher (David Price) baying for blood is a cartoonish bad guy, goading the ambitious prosecutor Hugh Dorsey (Tod Strike) and flaming small-town hysteria.

Luigi Lucente brings more nuance to the nebbish Leo, an intellectual stuck in a stifling backwater, but the character doesn’t rouse much pity beyond that of the falsely accused. Understandably vexed but also cold, his moment for sympathy in It’s Hard To Speak My Heart is lacklustre. Laura Fitzpatrick offers much needed warmth as his good-natured and determined wife.

The tree that looms large in the background is an oppressive symbol foreshadowing Leo’s fate. Whether the singing and dancing that occurs beneath its branches is the best way to examine the barbaric prejudice that concludes there is debatable.

Parade ★★★

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