Posted on January 23, 2008 at 2:26 pm

Steven Suskin’s review here.

PARADE [First Night CASTCD 99]

Jason Robert Brown and Alfred Uhry’s Parade is the latest failed Broadway musical to find its way to a smaller, simpler and more economical version. Rob Ashford, the Southern-born director-choreographer who served as Pat Birch’s assistant on the original production in December 1998, seems to have personally shepherded the piece to the estimable Donmar Warehouse. Smaller, simpler and more economical this production was; a company of 51 actors and musicians was reduced to a mere 24. The scenic production at the intimate Donmar was, necessarily, a fragment of the grand pageant Hal Prince put on the stage at Lincoln Center. The severe doubling caused a certain amount of rethinking, with a not insignificant amount of rewriting by the Messrs. Brown and Uhry. All told, this was a considerably different Parade.

The results, at least insofar as they are presented (complete with dialogue) on the new cast recording, indicate that Brown, Uhry and Ashford have improved and strengthened the piece. Parade, despite its inarguably impressive score, has been in virtually-unproduceable limbo for nine years. The changes necessitated by the Donmar experience have not necessarily improved it; I suppose that champions of the original production might still hold on to the majestic (if slow-moving) musical epic that it was. But this new version — again, judged from a recording but not an in-theatre visit — has an impact that the 1998 production lacked.

The phrase “failed Broadway musical” warrants a bit of an explanation. Parade opened to downbeat reviews and a less-than-enthusiastic audience response. (The show, mind you, relays the real-life tale of the murder of a child and the lynching of the apparently innocent defendant.) Produced as an offering of Lincoln Center Theater, it ran through its scheduled run and closed after a mere 84 official performances. That said, the show might have turned the proverbial corner had there been a financial cushion sufficient to keep things going until April, when Parade garnered a bouquet of nominations (nine Tony, 13 Drama Desk). At this very moment, though, Livent — which was billed with LCT above the title — began to show signs of the financial turmoil that would soon scuttle that gargantuan enterprise. With no guarantee of additional funds, the non-profit LCT had no choice but to close the show, with the Parade passing by on the final day of February.

Brown and Uhry did, indeed, win their Tonys; they deserved them, too, even if the competition was laughably inferior. (Best Score competition: Footloose and The Civil War.) Had the show been running when the voters came to town, though, Parade might have picked up even more awards and gone on to a healthy run. Which is pretty much what happened with Lincoln Center’s Light in the Piazza, which got off to a similarly nervous start.

The Donmar Parade is headed by Bertie Carvel and Lara Pulver as Leo and Lucille Frank, with noticeably strong support (on the CD, anyway) from Gary Milner as Governor Slaton. Thomas Murray conducts from a new, especially strong nine-piece orchestration by David Cullen. The cast album is produced by Jeffrey Lesser, who served the same capacity on the similarly excellent Broadway recording [RCA 09026-63378]. The two-CD package is accompanied by a DVD [viewable on U.S. DVD players] entitled “Behind the Parade,” which consists of interviews with Brown, Uhry, Ashford, Donmar artistic director Michael Grandage and designer Christopher Oram. While these things are often self-congratulatory promo pieces, this one contains some rather interesting discussion of the changes in the piece (including a major new song in the second act, “The Glory,” sung by Judge Roan and Dorsey at a rural fishing hole).

Mr. Brown has not returned to Broadway since Parade in 1998. (We expunge from the record some interpolations into one of those lame screen-to-stage efforts, which shall go unnamed here). Listening to this new recording of Parade, one can only hope that this versatile and talented songwriter returns to these environs, and soon.