Brunel’s Arts Centre’s latest production is Jason Robert Brown’s Parade, directed by Eileen Pinkarchevski. The musical focuses on the trial of Leo Frank, a Jewish Yankee in the state of Georgia after he is indicted for the murder of a thirteen year old girl. As stated in the programme, “these are not the ingredients of your average juke-box musical”.
George Gehm and Sarah Davey star as Leo and Lucille Frank respectively, the married couple that the musical centres around. They had heard about the musical for the first time through being involved with the Arts Centre last year, and according to George, the students “were really pushing to perform it”, despite the musical being unknown. Both students are holders of the Brunel University Music Award, and they’re fantastically strong as the leads, approaching their scenes together with an undeniable chemistry which makes for immersive viewing. Their strongest scenes were undoubtedly ‘This Is Not Over Yet’, which coincidentally is one of their favourite scenes, and also the emotional ‘All the Wasted Time’, the duet where Leo realises that he has been in love with his wife the whole time. Their separate performances in ‘It’s Hard To Speak My Heart’ for George, and ‘You Don’t Know This Man’ for Sarah were just strong as their scenes together.
Alumni Yeukayi Ushe, who took the roles of Jim Conley and Newt, had not auditioned for the role. “I was on the casting panel and after finding no one suitable, I took the roles as a favour to Eileen,” he said. Yeukayi certainly has a powerful voice, showcased perfectly in Jim Conley’s testimony ‘That’s What He Said’ and ‘A-Rumblin’ and A-Rollin’’. Fellow Alumni Ben McMath played the manipulative antagonist Hugh Dorsey, relishing in the charismatic deviousness of his character. Sam Ody also stood out, tackling the roles of Governor Slaton, reporter Brit Craig and the Young Soldier with ease.
With a strong supporting cast, Parade is certainly a triumph – and if you were not able to see the show, which ran from the 27th to the 29th of November, you should at least take the time to listen to the music. “The themes of Parade are still very relevant to today – loyalty, prejudice and family solidarity. And that is what makes it so powerful,” Ms. Pinkarchevski said. It is productions like Parade that endure, remaining relevant and timeless. It is a shame then that Parade is not as well-known as some of the big names in the West End, especially considering they carry some of the same messages.
As for the verdict, it was easy to see why rehearsals were described as “hectic” and “chaotic”, the show was put together in just over nine weeks, but it clearly paid off because Parade is brilliantly performed. This latest production from the Arts Centre is slick and heart-wrenching, and I highly urge you to go see this musical if you ever get the chance.