For a few years in a past life I put my community college journalism degree to use in part getting forty bucks a review as a wide-ranging theater critic for a local weekly paper. My only qualifications for the job were negligible: an even more distant period in which I studied acting and did a handful of plays, coupled to a lifetime’s enthusiasm and love for the stage.
Long back being a civilian theatergoer I just don’t see many shows nowadays. To get me into a seat it’s gotta be something compelling — especially when it comes to musicals, the last major one I saw being “Mamma Mia!” and that’s pretty much why. The genre has just become too much wafer-thin glitz. Sure production values are high and the talent is strong and the entertainment is there, but it all just seems to be less and less about pushing the artform’s boundaries and instead more and more about giving the people what they want.
By its ironically cheery title alone “Parade,” now playing at the Mark Taper Forum through November 15, might sound like it is, but it is not what the people want. And by that I mean those masses who get excited by news of “Footloose: The Musical” coming to town.
Because it’s dark — no I mean really. Based on the unconscionable tragedy of Leo Frank, “Parade” promenades past the audience, taking it on a descent into a particularly evil episode in this country’s history — and it does so with song. And dance.
At all times “Parade” is an inspired and committed production rich with talent whose every aspect is flawlessly executed. But at turns it is chilling, shocking, harrowing, horrifying, and always unrepentant and unapologetic in its telling of such a perfect storm of injustice.
Given that several patrons didn’t return to their seats after the intermission, clearly it was repelling to some who were perhaps expecting a far more frivolous and forgettable evening. But for me it is some of the bravest and most riveting and important theater I have ever had the privilege to see.