Parade (2023 Broadway Cast Recording) | Review
Monday, August 7, 2023
Brown’s score runs the gamut from Deep South spirituals and jazzy popular song to operatic duets
Let me say straight away that the Original Broadway Cast recording (1998) of this remarkable show is undoubtedly one of the great cast albums. For one thing, it enshrined an historic debut for composer/lyricist Jason Robert Brown, who was delivering a precociously sophisticated and thrilling score at the age of just 28. The bar was set impossibly high. But here we are 25 years later with the piece retaining its place in the core repertoire of Musical Theatre, and once more finding its way back to the Great White Way with one of the hottest young Broadway stars of the day – Ben Platt – leading the charge.
Another extraordinary aspect of the score is the speed of the song narrative, which gives it the feel of a fast-moving newsreel, a rush to judgement
We begin and end with the ominous rattle of the military drum. Civil War strife, with all its ugly and deep-rooted prejudices, conveyed in a simple but distinctly uneasy marching rhythm. So, first impressions. The 1998 album was widescreen in every sense – epic, but with an affecting intimacy behind the closed doors of Leo and Lucille Frank’s marriage. The focus is tighter, more immediate, in 2023, but paradoxically not all the detail in Don Sebesky’s stunning orchestrations hit home as they did so electrifyingly in the original.
The Prologue (‘The Old Red Hills of Home’) – one of the great set-pieces in the Broadway canon – straddles the decades and the generations, voicing its Confederate fervour through the ballad of a young soldier (Charlie Webb) and a veteran (Broadway’s own veteran Howard McGillin). The climactic choral paean would seem to have deployed a cast of thousands in the original, with ensemble numbers decidedly more modest, though certainly punchy, in 2023.
The wonder of Brown’s score is its breathtaking confidence and assurance, running the gamut of musical Americana from marching numbers, Deep South spirituals and snazzy, jazzy popular song to operatic duets and set-pieces. Lucille’s withering put-down of reporters in ‘You Don’t Know This Man’ does in two minutes what it takes other shows entire scores to convey. Micaela Diamond brings us much of the distinctive vocal feistiness of the original Lucille, Carolee Carmello, and she is well-matched to the intensity and vulnerability conveyed through Platt’s now unmistakably rapid and emotive vibrato.
I’m glad that the new recording moves in such quick succession through the numbers (no gaping pauses between) because another extraordinary aspect of the score is the speed of the song narrative, which gives it the feel of a fast-moving newsreel, a rush to judgement.
My own judgement here won’t in the slightest influence those who want a souvenir of this revival, but I am bound to say that the original Leo and Lucille – the great Brent Carver and aforementioned Carmello – take us by the throat in ways that recordings of great performances rarely do. ‘This Is Not Over Yet’ and the devastating 11 o’clock duet ‘All the Wasted Time’ pack so much more punch on the original album, and the thrill of Sebesky’s orchestrations in the latter are decidedly blunted in this new version. Then again, you might love it so much you’ll want both.
Jason Robert Brown music, lyrics
Alfred Uhry book
Cast Ben Platt, Micaela Diamond, Charlie Webb, Howard McGillin, Kelli Barrett et al
Orchestrations Don Sebesky, Jason Robert Brown
Musical direction Tom Murray
Orchestra / Jason Robert Brown