By Barry Reszel
No one walks away from this Parade wondering what what type of guy spends his Saturday mornings donning a fez, skittering around in a flying carpet.
But they do walk away wondering.
That’s precisely the way Chicago’s BoHo Theatre wants it. Audiences of this closing production of its 10th season are handed a musical version of the company’s mission: “to create bold theatre that challenges convention through innovative storytelling and unites artist and audience in the examination of truth, beauty, freedom and love through the lens of human relationships.”
Parade, the 1999 Tony Award-winning musical—book by Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy), music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown (The Last Five Years, The Bridges of Madison County)—puts a unique spin on true events to force its audience’s consideration of prejudice, politics, journalism, justice, duty and love in the post-Civil War South.
Handsome Jim Deselm shines as unhappily transplanted Brooklyn Jew Leo Frank, an Atlanta pencil factory superintendent railroaded onto death row for the murder of his 13-year-old female employee. Lovely Sarah Bockel stars as his wife, Lucille, a role that deserves acclaim by all champions of the feminist spirit as she transforms from a disinterested, overlooked housewife to not only compassionate partner, but politically sophisticated freedom fighter.
A full synopsis of the plot and history of the musical may be read here.
These two fantastically lead their large non-Equity ensemble through Uhry’s captivating storytelling and Brown’s complex songbook. Bockel’s voice particularly soars in “You Don’t Know This Man,” and the pair’s “All the Wasted Time” is both the loveliest in the book and a punctuation to the production’s end.
Particular kudos go to Eric Lewis (pictured above) as prosecution star witness JimConley. Audience members wonder when his blues cabaret will be staged, because his rendition of “That’s What He Said” is a true showstopperand Lewis is the real deal.
But accolades don’t end there. Lorenzo Rush Jr. as suspect Newt Lee is splendid, and both Peyton Tinder as murdered child Mary and Cole Doman as Mary’s young suitor Frankie deliver admirable performances. Scott Danielson as sleazy prosecutor Hugh Dorsey and Russell Alan Rowe as reluctantly responsible Governor John Slaton are terrifically cast by Director Linda Fortunato.
At times opening night the vocal blends were difficult to hear in this un-mic’d environment at storefont Theatre Wit. And Mary’s second dress in two years looked too similar to her first; she must like green, but a couple costume changes for Bockel would be nice.
Small nits aside, BoHo does itself proud with this staging of a difficult and powerful musical. It’d be a shame to let this parade pass by without pausing to take an extended look.
BoHo Theatre’s “Parade” runs Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 pm and Sundays at 2:00 pm, through November 16 at Theatre Wit, 1229 W. Belmont, Chicago. Tickets are $27 for Friday and Saturdays, $25 for Thursdays and Sundays, with discounts available for seniors and students. More information and tickets are available online at www.BoHoTheatre.com or by phone at (773) 975-8150.