Parade review at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester – ‘confident and well-sung’
When the Hope Mill Theatre opened six months ago, the production team said their ambition was to make the flexible 120-seater, housed in a former cotton mill, not only a receiving venue but Manchester’s home for musicals. For their first full-scale production, ambitions don’t come much higher than staging the north west premiere of Parade, Jason Robert Brown’s account of racial tensions and anti-semitism in 1913 Georgia, based on the true story of the false conviction of Leo Frank for killing a 13-year-old girl and his subsequent lynch-mob murder.
With Alfred Uhry’s book exploring Southern pride and prejudice, James Baker’s bewitchingly lit production doesn’t shy away from the narrative’s bleak un-romantic moodiness. Tom Chester’s classy arrangements for a nine-piece orchestra and some glorious full-throttle choral work also do justice to Jason Robert Brown’s multi-genre score, from the first angry drumbeat to the final deadly downbeat, while Victoria Hinton’s spare setting employs the venue’s heritage brickwork as a backcloth to give a hint of decay.
Despite pitch-perfect singing throughout, the choreography is patchy and the 15-strong cast could probe deeper beneath their characters’ skins. The issues they embody – from political corruption and mass scapegoating to the legacy of slavery – seem too glossed over to make the sort of dramatic impact required, which also means the personal tragedies aren’t as heart-rending as they could be, especially the central relationship between doomed Leo and his wife, Lucille.
Still, the production enters this challenging musical’s heart of darkness with total confidence.