Tag Archives: Jason Robert Brown

Parade, Southwark Playhouse

18 Aug

Alastair Brookshaw

I went to see Parade at the Southwark Playhouse last week. It’s a musical with music & lyrics by Jason Robert Brown and book by Alfred Uhry and based on the real murder of 13-year old Mary Phagan in Altanta/Georgia in 1913, for which the Jewish factory manager Leo Frank was blamed and abducted from prison and lynched. Due to the antisemitism surrounding his trial and lynching many Jews fled the state afterwards. It has never been established who the real murderer was.

I never saw the Donmar production, so I’ve got nothing to (visually) compare it to, but I love the cast recording and there are some lovely melodies in it.

The musical starts off with a young soldier (played by Samuel J. Weir – lovely, strong voice!) in Georgia, who is about to go to fight for “the old red hills of home” during the American Civil War. The story then jumps forward to 1913 where the same soldier, now old, is about to take part in the Confederate Memorial Day parade. A woman has prepared a picnic for herself and her husband, but Leo Frank (Alastair Brookshaw), who is originally from New York and now manages a factory in Atlanta, refuses to take part in the festivities and insists he needs to go to work. Watching the parade, he makes it quite clear that he doesn’t belong there (“How Can I Call This Home?”).

Laura Pitt-Pulford

Meanwhile, some teenagers, among them 13-year old Mary Phagan, who works in Frank’s factory and her admirer Frankie Epps, enjoy the festivities, until Mary leaves to collect her pay and is later found murdered in the basement of the factory.

Soon, Leo Frank finds himself to be the prime suspect of the murder. After a rather dubious trial and false allegations, he is found guilty and sentenced to death. His wife Lucille (Laura Pitt-Pulford), however, refuses to give up and convinces the governor to re-open the case. He finally changes his sentence to life, knowing very well that this is political suicide, as the people of Atlanta are convinced that it must have been Frank. They decide to kidnap him and lynch him. Even facing his death, Frank refuses to admit his guilt and is hanged. Once more, the Confederate Memorial Day Parade starts and there is a reprise of “The Old Red Hills of Home”.

Having read a bit about the real murder case (which is still unsolved), I found it very interesting that the musical quite clearly takes the side of those who believe that Leo Frank was innocent and even shows us the “real” murderer in the last scene: the African-American factory janitor Jim Conley.

Samantha Seager

Therefore, the villains of the musical are the prosecutor Dorsey (Mark Inscoe) and the publisher Watson (Simon Bailey), who agitate the masses with their wrong claims about Frank, which in the end leads to his death.

This approach also means that I felt sympathy for Leo Frank right from the beginning, which obviously is mostly due to Alastair Brookshaw’s interpretation. He played him as very awkward around other people, even his wife, and his coldness towards her in the beginning merely a result of this awkwardness. Still, he also had an arrogant side, which he displayed during the court room scenes, up until “It’s Hard To Speak My Heart”, which was very moving. His “Sh’ma” at the end and that whole scene was so intensely acted I found it hard to just sit there and watch.

Laura Pitt-Pulford’s Lucille Frank was very strong. Her “What Am I Waiting For” in the beginning and “Do It Alone”, when Leo doesn’t want her to get involved, were heartbreaking, as was her duet with Leo “All The Wasted Time” when they finally declare their love for each other. There is a big focus on their changing relationship, which makes the end so hard to watch. Still, they are in no way perfect, both have their faults and weaknesses, which is another reason why it’s so easy to relate to them and their story.

Alastair Brookshaw & Laura Pitt-Pulford

Jessica Bastick-Vines is a very sweet, innocent Mary Phagan and really doesn’t look much older than her character’s age. Samantha Seager, who plays her mother, sings a very heartfelt rendition of “My Child Will Forgive Me” during Frank’s trial.

Samuel J Weir & Mark Inscoe

However, for me the “star of the show” (next to Laura Pitt-Pulford and Alastair Brookshaw) was Samuel J. Weir. He’s got a great voice, but it was his acting which completely convinced me. There was so much emotion in his voice in “There Is A Fountain/It Don’t Make Sense”, so much anger, desperation and also helplessness. Even during the abduction and lynching I couldn’t really bring myself to dislike Frankie. He is definitely one to look out for in the future!

They are ably supported by Kelly Agbowu, Simon Bailey, Michael Cotton, Terry Doe, Natalie Green, David Haydn, Mark Inscoe (His “Twenty Miles From Marietta” was one of the highlights for me.), Abiona Omonua, Philip Rham and Victoria Sierra, who play various supporting roles.

The Company

The Southwark Playhouse is a very interesting venue with the auditorium situated in a vault, which added to the atmosphere very well. The staging was very simple. There were only wooden floorboards and chairs/tables etc. were brought in by cast members when needed. I really liked it, because it put the main focus on the musical itself. I did wonder in the interval how they would manage to do the hanging without it looking completely fake or tacky, but I shouldn’t have worried, because it was done very effectively.

The sound, unfortunately, wasn’t that great. The music was too loud at several points and drowned out the singing, even though the actors had microphones.

For me, Parade in general and this production of it in particular is pretty much a perfect musical. It’s the perfect example that musicals can tackle more serious topics and don’t need big dance numbers etc. Instead, it does a lot more than that: It moves you and makes you think (sometimes a bit too much, congratulations if you are still reading this ;-)) and it has some great songs in it. Add to this an incredibly talented cast and what more could you possibly want?!?

Philip Rahm & Company

PHOTO CREDIT: Annabel Vere

Stuart Matthew Price: All Things In Time – Barn Theatre, Oxted

22 Jun

Stuart Matthew Price is another great contemporary composer and performer and can be currently seen in the West End production of Shrek, where he plays one of the three little pigs. He also created the part of the Young Soldier/Frankie Epps in Parade (Donmar Warehouse), played Riff Raff  in The Rocky Horror Show (German Tour), Jordan in Departure Lounge (Edinburgh Fringe), Beyond The Gate and took part in several concerts.

He released his debut album All Things In Time last year and it’s amazing. It is a fantastic collection of new songs by both British and American songwriters and he’s not only got a stunning voice, but the emotion he displays in it is incredible. A definite must-have for any theatre fan!

I’ve been lucky enough to see Stuart Matthew Price in some other concerts these past few months, so my expectation were very high, but he just seems to get better and better.

This time he had a bigger orchestra instead of just a piano for accompaniment, which sounded great: Bob Broad (Keys 1/MD), Scott Alder (Keys 2/MD), Annmarie McDade (Violin), Lauren Steel (Cello), Charlie Laffer (Guitar) and Ida Hollis (Bass).

He opened the concert with The Old Red Hills Of Home from Jason Robert Brown’s Parade, which is also the first song on his album. It’s a great song (and musical) and hearing/seeing Stuart perform it live is always a treat.

Up next was Sonnet XXIX, which was written by “Jason Robert Brown’s wife” aka Georgia Stitt. I probably wouldn’t find it that funny (or funny it all) if I hadn’t seen her tweet this when I came home:

So he’s not the only one who doesn’t mention her by name. Lovely song and rendition!

Then his guest for the evening, Ashleigh Gray, came on stage to sing Wizard And I. I never saw her in Wicked, but I couldn’t agree more with Stuart: She’s simply incredible and has got one of the best voices I’ve ever heard.

Stuart then sang a shortened version of Being Alive from Company. I keep repeating myself, but it was amazing. Wonderful vocals and acting!

Next was one of Stuart’s own songs, Autumn Days from his musical The Diary of Me. It’s a lovely and very moving song. It’s one of my favourites on his album, so I had hoped he’d sing it again, and it sounded great.

Run Away With Me is another great song and Stuart did it more than justice!

Ashleigh Gray came back on stage to sing Free with Stuart. Such a lovely song, especially when sung by two so stupidly talented people.

The last song of the first half was Grateful. I can’t (and don’t want to) imagine anyone else singing that song anymore! It probably wasn’t his strongest performance of that song, but even when he is not 100 % he’s still pretty damn good (and better than most others).

The first song of the second half was another of Stuart’s own songs, Where I Want To Be. It’s a very catchy song, loved it!

Wishing For The Normal has been one of my favourite songs since I’ve heard it on the A Spoonful of Stiles & Drew album and I’d always hoped he’d sing it at his other cabarets. Finally, he did. It’s such a nice song and they were great.

He then sang the title track from his album, All Things In Time. It’s another incredibly beautiful song by Jason Robert Brown.

His Bring Him Home was stunning. I really hope he gets to play the part at some point, fortunately the musical doesn’t seem to go anywhere in the foreseeable future.

He then sang Last Night Of The World with Ashleigh Gray. This was probably my favourite song of the evening. It’s a wonderful song anyway, but hearing and watching those two sing it… Just wow!

The last song was Road To Heaven. I love the lyrics of this song and it sounded great with the bigger orchestra.

As an encore we were treated to Gethsemane. Is there any song this guy can’t sing?!? It was wonderful and he definitely deserved that standing ovation afterwards! I’ve never seen Jesus Christ Superstar on stage and only know it from the two film versions and the London Revival Cast Recording with Steve Balsamo. Until tonight, this had song never really moved me, but I found it almost painful to watch Stuart singing it because his acting was so intense.

That’s one of the things that I like so much about his concerts: He doesn’t just sing the songs beautifully, but he really acts them and takes you on a journey.

Another thing that makes his concerts so special are his introductions to the songs, which are hilarious, and sometimes rather long. The record is probably still held by his cabaret at the Landor Theatre, which lasted three hours because he was talking that much (I’m not complaining by the way, it didn’t feel long at all!). So among the random things we’ve learned tonight were that he apparently wants a dog, men hate shaving and would all wear long beards if they could, it took the British to make Shrek work, he feels like a little Jesus guy in Oxted while outside of the Barn he’s a little pig, it’s not easy to play the piano with pointed shoes and “Susan Boyle – The Musical” is like saying “My Right Foot – The Musical”.

All in all, a great evening with some great music and incredibly talented people! I’m looking forward to more concerts in the hopefully not too distant future!

And if you haven’t got Stuart’s album already, you can (and should) buy it at Dress Circle, because “you can’t sign a download”!