Composer Jason Robert Brown quite literally cast a large shadow on the wall of Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall Monday night, as he led the New York City Chamber Orchestra and a massive chorus during a concert production of his Tony-winning musical Parade. Though the show is filled with sorrow, it was hard not to feel gleeful during Manhattan Concert Productions’ presentation—especially when watching Brown conduct his own score.
Despite all the orchestral showmanship, the concert production truly hinged on the principal cast—who didn’t lose sight of Parade‘s status as a devastating character piece. Based on a true story, the musical follows Leo Frank, a Jewish factory superintendent in 1910s Atlanta who’s wrongfully accused of murdering a teenage girl, Mary Phagan. The show’s chorus, built from choirs across the country, highlighted the mob mentality that helped convict Frank, which in turn led to his lynching. Even though they were on book, the actors honed in on the lives being manipulated and ruined in the wake of this tragedy.
Jeremy Jordan, who stars as Jamie in the new film adaptation of Brown’s The Last Five Years, altered his physicality to play Leo. The swagger he projects onscreen was gone; instead, his shoulders were hunched. Even with all of the bodies on stage, it was impossible not to watch Jordan during the trial sequence as he squirmed and fiddled with his hands. When Jordan played the lecherous Leo of the factory girls’ testimony in “Come Up to My Office,” the aforementioned swagger seeped through—until he transformed back into the real Leo, all nerves and discomfort.
Laura Benanti elegantly conveyed the frustration and passion of Leo’s wife Lucille, and Charlie Franklin, recently of Brown’s The Bridges of Madison County, was affecting and unnerving as both the young soldier who opens the show with the Confederate anthem “The Old Red Hills of Home” and Frankie Epps, Mary Phagan’s outraged friend.
Butin many ways, the night belonged to Joshua Henry as Jim Conley, a factory employee who is essentially blackmailed into testifying against Leo. His powerful testimony number, “That’s What He Said,” brought the show to a standstill, with the audience erupting into thunderous applause. His second act showcase, “Blues: Feel the Rain Fall,” during which Brown led the chorus in rhythmic clapping symbolizing a chain gang, was met with the same response.
The staging was minimal but effective. As Leo, Jordan wove through a frozen ensemble for his first song, “How Can I Call This Home?” A screen hanging above the stage bore the Georgia flag at the outset, and changed images throughout the production to signify setting. Though at times the sheer number of voices on stage made it difficult to understand Brown’s lyrics, the grandness of the chorus made the score’s impact gorgeous and, aptly, terrifying.