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July 28, 2012

REVIEW: Casa's "Parade" (Apprentice Program)


If you’re not familiar with Casa’s Apprentice Program, here’s the skinny: kids as young as 14 and as old as 19 put on a full-length Broadway show as the culmination of an audition-only, 3-week intensive rehearsal process. Students learn the ins and outs of putting on a professionally produced show with industry pros, and the show itself is no shrinking violet just because teenagers are doing it. Past Apprentice Program Summer Musicals have included the likes of “Les Miserables” and “The Secret Garden.” Ambitious, huh?

If you think “Parade” sounds like a classic Rodgers and Hammerstein show a la “Carousel” what with the happy-go-lucky-ness of the title, you would be very, very mistaken. Rodgers and Hammerstein would cry big salty tears of bewilderment if they had to tackle this kind of subject matter. Adapted from the true story of the trial of Leo Frank, a Brooklyn-raised Jewish man accused of murder and child molestation in turn-of-the-century Georgia, “Parade” chronicles the path of a displaced northerner trying to defend himself against trumped up-charges — backlit by a culture of suspicion and prejudice. Racism and murder are the themes of the day. And not just murder, but the murder and alleged rape of a little girl. With a lynching thrown in for good measure.

Not exactly your high school’s production of “Seussical.”

But there are also sweet moments of fierce loyalty, dogged determination, and the joyful rediscovery of dormant love. What mystifies and delights in the midst of such dramatic material is how from the very first light cue, you forget these actors just got their driver’s licenses. And in a few glimmering moments, you forget these are even actors at all — something seasoned professionals strive to achieve.

With a generally consistent mastery of Ol’ South Georgia dialect, and the remarkable performance energy present in such eager youngsters (been waiting this whole time to use that word), it’s hard to take your eyes off of “Parade.” I certainly never looked at my watch.

Katie Porterfield, who plays Lucille Frank (the wife of the accused), only started acting about 5 years ago when she was 14, but I would pay to watch her at Bass Hall tomorrow, and probably will some day soon. I found myself holding my breath every time she opened her mouth.

From the moment we heard James Sanders (Governor John Slaton) sing the opening notes of “The Old Red Hills of Home,” my friend and I looked at each other and shivered. How does a high school student have a voice like this? I found myself saying that quite a lot, about (quite a lot of) the cast.

With a gorgeous, GORGEOUS score written by Jason Robert Brown, the show opened on Broadway in December of 1998 but only had 39 previews and 84 regular performances. So yes, it’s relatively obscure; Tony-winning, but still kind of unknown (Best Book, Best Score). “Parade” at Casa is for anyone who appreciates well produced Broadway show with Big-T Themes and good performances, even if said Broadway show doesn’t have a kick line or a gaggle of nuns trying to solve baffling, universal problems like “Maria.”

What Parents Will Like: Ok. You’re wondering if you should bring your kids. And as much as your kids would gain from watching other slightly older kids do such amazing things on stage, I would advise you only bring your high school child. Even a junior high student is probably too young.

But you, as a parent — as an adult — will enjoy quite a lot. The music, the performances, the well-paced dramatic tension, just to name a few.

What Kids Will Like: As it is, my four-year-old believes live theater to be the devil’s handiwork, and so I can’t even begin to imagine what witnessing a staged hanging would do to him. Again, don’t bring your itty-bitties. But your 15-year-old? If he or she is an aspiring performer, they will be energized to see their peers reach this kind of professional level.

Good To Know: Don’t expect to leave the theater with a little bounce in your step. You might need to visit a wine bar, like we did, afterwards. But, as with all good tragedies, prepare to revel in the gooey drama. It might also help to Wiki-fy yourself beforehand, so you’re familiar with the story. Sometimes the plot details are hard to follow.

All In All: If you need an injection of optimism about the future of today’s youth and the future of today’s professional theater, please, please buy a ticket and sit on the front row. You will be glad you did.

Show Info: Only four shows this weekend! July 27-29. Tickets at

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