Imaginary Fiends

Mr. Marmalade, Lawrence & Holloman buddy up to the absurd; Parade's a main drag

No marching bands, baton twirlers or giant balloons cross the stage in the musical Parade, now playing at Addison's WaterTower Theatre. There is a child murder, a chain gang and a lynch mob. Sound fun? Only if you consider Les Miserables a happy, peppy musical comedy, in which case Parade is a hoot and a holler.

With book by Alfred Uhry (who wrote the straight plays Driving Miss Daisy and Last Night at Ballyhoo) and music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown (composer of The Last Five Years), Parade puts 25 tuneless songs to the real story of Leo Frank, a Jewish factory manager who in 1913 Atlanta was convicted of raping and murdering a 13-year-old worker named Mary Phagan. It's a famous case involving anti-Semitism and miscarriage of justice that often is credited as inspiring the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan in the Deep South and as the impetus for the creation of the Anti-Defamation League.

Interesting story, to be sure, but made into musical theater, Parade, first produced in New York in 1998, is like watching 28 actors and actresses sing the transcript of the Nuremberg trials. WaterTower's production, directed by James Paul Lemons, is a colorless, turgid mess dragging out over 155 minutes.

Four-year-old Lisa (Tina Parker) seeks refuge from boredom in the form of handsome Mr. Marmalade (Christopher Carlos).
Matt Mrozek
Four-year-old Lisa (Tina Parker) seeks refuge from boredom in the form of handsome Mr. Marmalade (Christopher Carlos).


Mr. Marmalade continues through May 5 at Kitchen Dog Theater, 214-953-1055.

Lawrence & Holloman continues through April 22 at Addison Theatre Centre, 972-450-6232.

Parade continues through April 29 at WaterTower Theatre, Addison, 972-450-6232.

Among the large cast, Matthew Johnson, Eleanor T. Threatt, Wilbur Penn and Walter Cunningham rise above the mediocre material with some thrilling singing—but they only get a scant two or three minutes in the spotlight. The rest of the time we're stuck with Donald Fowler, one of Dallas theater's most reliable musical leads, miscast as Leo Frank and playing him like a quivering Casper Milquetoast. Fowler's voice is so tremulous his dialogue is hard to hear and his singing is hampered by a crackly head-mike.

As Leo's Jewish debutante wife Lucille, Jennifer Pasion exhibits a shrieky soprano that falls far short of too many high notes. Perhaps she's in pain from the weight of a wig that resembles the largest dirt-dauber nest south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Visually, the production looks like it ran sorely short of cash for sets and costumes. Perhaps scenic artist Clare Floyd DeVries was so busy building the detailed three-dimensional collage for Lawrence & Holloman (playing in the theater next door) that she ran out of ideas for Parade. On simple multi-level scaffolding, the large cast of the musical perches like an unkindness of ravens.

Costumer Michael A. Robinson throws any old schmattes on the guys and gals of turn-of-the-century Atlanta, whether they fit the period or the actors or not. This costumer, as he has in so many productions, forces the women onstage to don wigs and dresses that make even the prettiest among them look like hell.

By the time the mob brings out the noose at the end of Parade, you'll be muttering "Hang 'em, hang 'em all."

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