A moving, infuriating inspiration – StageWorks Toronto’s Parade

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Scott Labonte (as Leo Frank) and Lauren Lazar (as Lucille Frank). Photo by Nicholas Jones.

I saw Parade for the very first time when I went to see StageWorks Toronto’s production last night at the George Ignatieff Theatre.

With music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, and book by Alfred Uhry, StageWorks’ production of Parade was directed/choreographed by Lorraine Green-Kimsa, assisted by Michael Yaneff, with music direction by Tom Kerr. Based on a true story of prejudice and gross miscarriage of justice, Parade is a moving, heartbreaking, infuriating inspiration of a musical.

The large energetic cast includes stand-out performances by the two leads: company co-founder Lauren Lazar (Lucille Frank, co-producer) and Scott Labonte (Leo Frank), both doing a lovely job with both the musical demands of their roles, as well as their characters’ arcs. Their relationship distant and strained, Leo is a stiff, frustrated but decent man, while Lucille is prim and loyal – and both face a test of loyalty and strength, both personal and marital, throughout the course of Leo’s trial and incarceration, culminating in the beautiful duet “All The Wasted Time.”

Twaine Ward (Newt Lee & Jim Conley) does a stellar turn, especially as the charming and resourceful Conley, showing great acting and singing chops on “That’s What He Said,” “ A Rumblin’ and a Rollin’” and “Blues: Feel the Rain Fall,” the latter including some great choreography for the chain gang scene. Luke Witt has great range as young Frankie Epps, going from cheeky flirt in “The Picture Show” to devastated, vengeful friend in “There is a Fountain/It Don’t Make Sense.” Stephen Flett does a great job with Governor Jack Slaton, a good ‘ole boy who finds himself rethinking the questionable methods he’s been employing to keep things neat and tidy politically. A nice pairing with Kelly Lovatt-Hawkins as his wife Sally, a balancing influence and an equal in their marriage – and a great fun, charming song and dance number in “Pretty Music.” The villains in this story are played with relish and realism – Will van der Zyl’s Hugh Dorsey, the politically ambitious snake of a D.A., and Michael Yaneff as Watson (also co-founder/co-producer), the dangerous, right-wing Christian bible thumper. All of the characters exude their own kind of virtue and all are flawed.

Parade is certainly a strong socio-political commentary of the time, place, people and justice system – but what makes it so compelling is that it’s a very human story. A husband and wife discover the true love and strength of their marriage, and a governor does the right thing despite the likely peril of his political career.

“Parade” is a reference to the annual April 26 Confederate Memorial Day parade – it is also about the parade of humanity. The show opens and closes with “The Old Red Hills of Home” – first sung by a young soldier going off to fight in the Civil War, then at the end led by Frankie Epps, who is going off to fight in WWI. Not much changes in the 50-odd years in between – and one only has to read the newspaper to see that there is work yet to be done on the justice system in the south.

Parade runs at the George Ignatieff Theatre until August 18. Here’s one of the preview vids for the production – the finale of the rousing and somewhat disturbing, given the play’s journey, “Old Red Hills of Home.” You can see all the Parade preview vids on the StageWorks Toronto’s website:

Upcoming theatre, music, poetry & cabaret happenings this week

Hey kids! For all y’all who are coming back to your regularly scheduled programming after the long weekend: hope you had a good one. Can you believe we’re well into the first week of August already? Holy moly!

Lots coming up, my friends. Here is just a sample of what local artists and performers are up to here in Toronto this week:

StageWorks Toronto’s production of Parade runs Aug 8 – 18 at the George Ignatieff Theatre.

SummerWorks gets up and running Aug 8 – 18 at various venues. I’ve got my eye on: Delicacy, Eating Pomegranates Naked and Utopia.

The August edition of The Beautiful and the Damned on Thurs, Aug 8 at Q Space from 7 – 9:30 p.m., hosted by Lizzie Violet, and featuring Brenda Clews, Adam Abbas and Andrea Matchett, and a whole lotta talented open mic performers. Dead celeb of the month is Janis Joplin. This will be TB&TD’s last show at Q Space – new location TBD.

Songwriters Circle of Jerks is also up on Thurs, Aug 8 at Free Times Café at 8:30 p.m., featuring guest performer blueVenus.

More music at Free Times Café on Sat, Aug 10 at 8:30 p.m. with Craig Robertson, Heather Hill and Tania Joy.

The monthly cabaret/open mic extravaganza Lizzie Violet’s Cabaret Noir says goodbye to Q Space on Sun, Aug 11 7 – 10 p.m., with feature performers sol knots, Andraya and Tania Joy, as well as some amazing open mic talent. Cabaret Noir heads to a new venue in September – new location TBA during Sunday night’s show.