Winner of several year-end accolades, Lincoln Center's Parade had a short-lived stage life but has since become, perhaps by default, a succ's d'estime. Its tale of Southern chauvinism, prejudice, and fear works better on disc than in the theatre, where the true story of Leo Frank-a hard-working, shy Jew transplanted from Brooklyn to Atlanta, only to be convicted and lynched for a murder he probably did not commit-was buried under a dreary libretto.
Jason Robert Brown's eclectic score ranges from Joplin to Sondheim, yet has its own distinctions and nightmarish intensity. Ballads, hymns, minstrels, cakewalk-all serve to create a picture of a society gone haywire. The conflict between jingoism and humanity is set at the opening, with a martial drum an immediate warning that this work will be unrelenting and unyielding. A young Confederate soldier intones the stirring "The Old Red Hills of Home," which becomes the score's ironic leitmotiv, its melody appearing again before Leo's hanging. Standouts include "Big News," the poignant "You Don'Know This Man," and the jazzy "Come Up to My Office."
With passionate performances by Carolee Carmello, Brent Carver, Evan Pappas, Jessica Molaskey, Kirk McDonald, and the striking Rufus Bonds, Jr., the CD is strong stuff. Eric Stern's musical supervision and Don Sebesky's orchestrations add to the drama.
Brains and Beauty
On disc, A New Brain, also from Lincoln Center, comes across as more cutesy than thoughtful, even though it's about a songwriter with a near-fatal brain tumor. Then, again, since our hero, Gordo, writes children's songs about frogs for a tyrannical Mr. Bungee, the juvenile style may seem appropriate. Yet composer-lyricist William Finn's songs, jaunty as they are, seem so disconnected from the show's throughline that they fail to move us.
Much of Finn's technique relies on fugues and rounds. He recapitulates themes of loss and guilt in an effort to deepen early feelings with later knowledge. "Heart and Music" becomes "Time and Music" by show's end to reveal a growth of sorts, and the opening number, the purposely banal "Frogs Have So Much Spring," resolves itself as the life-affirming "I Feel So Much Spring" at the finale. Along the way, we get lovely ballads like "I'd Rather Be Sailing" and "An Invitation to Sleep in My Arms," as well as cheerful novelties like "Mother's Gonna Make Things Fine" and "Eating Myself Up Alive."
It's the performers who win the race: Malcolm Gets is a sympathetic hero, Chip Zien an antic Mr. Bungee, Penny Fuller a revelation as Mother, Liz Larsen no-nonsense as Gordo's friend, Michael Mandell disc-stopping as a jolly Nurse. Lending support are Mary Testa, Kristin Chenoweth, John Jellison, and Keith Byron Krik, with a stalwart Norm Lewis substituting for indisposed original cast member Christopher Innvar.
Lincoln Center's spectacular production of Twelfth Night last summer incorporated a haunting score by Jeanne Tesori that used native instruments from Tibet, Africa, and America. The music created a landscape as remote and exotic as the coast of Illyria where Shakespeare set his tale. The disc's first four tracks, titled "Islands," set the tone for an experience that resembles what might be heard at a New Wave party held in a Costa Rican jungle. You can practically smell the marijuana and see the birds.
The effect is mesmerizing, and the feeling of something not rooted in reality persists throughout. Track five, "Viola's Theme," recreates the storm at sea that washed the heroine ashore, giving a mysterious, melancholy slant to a story of love and mistaken identity. The pensive mood continues with countertenor Marshall Coid's "Pie Jesu." Other vocals, including the famous lyrics to "O Mistress Mine" and "Come Away, Death," are sung by David Patrick Kelly as pop folk, as if from another realm.
What prevents this from becoming an "easy listening" album is the suggestion of danger in the rising beat and animalistic choral sounds of "Feste's Jam," the sudden mockery in "Goodman Devil," the seductively celestial "Sunrise Music." Tesori suggests that Shakespeare's romance occurs in a land of alien uncertainty-a comment, perhaps, on so-called civilized, technological societies where true romance is nigh impossible. That's fine, but it leaves not only the shipwrecked characters, but listeners, high and dry.
Considerably less musically ambitious than any of the above, Footloose wastes no space cutting loose from the start. With music mostly by Tom Snow and lyrics by Dean Pitchford (except for a collaboration with Kenny Loggins on the title number), the CD rocks. Danny Troob's terrific orchestrations and the youthful cast's energy make for some spiffy dance tracks, only fitting for a musical that celebrates breaking out. Dialogue passages, although not printed in the accompanying booklet, impart the feeling of a live experience.
But the score's sameness gets tiresome, not to mention simplistic and even sticky-as in "Heaven Help Me," sung by Stephen Lee Anderson, who's also glued to the embarrassingly mawkish and eminently skippable "I Confess." Yet there's Dee Hoty who, solo in "Can You Find It in Your Heart?" and dueting with Catherine Cox in the standout "Learning to be Silent," puts a credible face on cartoon sentiments. "Somebody's Eyes" and "Let's Hear It for the Boy" benefit from the powerful pipes of Stacy Francis. The novelty song, "Mama Says," is catchy, but, like much else here-indeed, like much rock music itself-is mighty repetitious. q