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Music Theatre 101: Parade’s “This is Not Over Yet”

Posted on the 02 August 2013 by Weminoredinfilm.com @WeMinoredInFilm

For some poor, unfortunate individuals, musical theater is the audible equivalent of fingernails upon a blackboard. They perceive it as a trite, pointless art form. The goal of this regular feature is to introduce readers to worthy, quality contributions to the musical theater genre in the hopes of increasing the art form’s appreciation.

If there is any composer that may take on the label “The New Stephen Sondheim,” it would be Jason Robert Brown. Stylistically, they’re very similar, with scores that feel more like mathematical theorems in their precision than the more typical soaring, lush, romantic scores that often dominate musical theater. However, that would hardly be sufficient reason to name Brown as a worthy successor to the Stephen Sondheim musical dynasty. What really makes Brown a follower in Sondheim’s footsteps is his tendency to dive into the more difficult, unpleasant aspects of human interactions, the neuroses and petty, selfish, sometimes vindictive drives that guide everyday human dealings. Whether he is mining that territory for dry comedy or poignant tragedy, his lyrics always place his characters’ insecurities and worries front and center.

Music Theatre 101: Parade’s “This is Not Over Yet”

“The new Stephen Sondheim? Yeah, that has a nice ring to it.”

With dialog written by Driving Miss Daisy playwright Alfred Uhry and direction by Broadway legend Harold Prince, Jason Robert Brown’s first Broadway musical, Parade, may have looked like a sure-fire hit. Alas, when it hit the Great White Way in 1999, it was met with audience indifference and a divided critical response. Telling the true story of Leo Frank, a Jewish factory runner in 1913 Atlanta who was wrongfully accused of murdering thirteen-year old, female employee Mary Phagan. He was found guilty and sentenced to be executed, only to have his sentence commuted to life in prison by the governor of Georgia. Alas, an angry mob abducted him from prison and hanged him in 1915.

Music Theatre 101: Parade’s “This is Not Over Yet”

“I die?! That doesn’t sound like the bright, cheery, Broadway extravaganza the title woudl indicate.”

Parade’s subject matter was always going to make it a difficult sell, given the bleak, rather hopeless ending that accompanies the true story, and its close time proximity to Ragtime, a musical (based on a novel) involving another early twentieth century, racially-charged miscarriage of justice, audiences may have felt a bit weary of courtroom denouncements, but it’s score is one of the best Broadway scores of the past twenty years.

The song presented here is the show’s most optimistic number, in which Leo Frank, waiting in a jail cell, is informed that his wife has gotten the Governor to review his case. The fact this song, whose plot high point really amounts to, “yay, I might not be executed,“ you know you’ve got a pretty bleak show on your hands. However, this song, full of triumphant, hopeful lyrics and an exultant score makes you hope, just for a few minutes, the world will work out the way it should.

Music Theatre 101: Parade’s “This is Not Over Yet”

“We’re going to be fine!”

Check out the song from the show’s 1999 Tony Awards performance below:

I love this song’s lyrical structure. Listen to the lyrics of the first verse. They’re all short, declarative sentences, regarding everything that can now cease to occur—parties and parades celebrating his imminent demise can be forgotten, his mother can stop crying, his rabbi’s eulogy can be placed aside, his cousin can stop counting his inheritance. It’s a series of brief, exciting bursts, spoken by a man so excited by this new revelation, he can barely form sentences to express his elation. Much of the play, especially the first act, presents Leo as a taciturn, borderline unsympathetic, protagonist. The show’s heart really involves the thawing of the chilly Leo and the blossoming of his relationship with wife, Lucille.

The romantic rebirth... does not last.

The romantic rebirth… does not last.

At the show’s onset, they seem to exist in an icy, estranged, near-loveless marriage. Here, for the first time, he’s allowed her to help him with his case, and she has been able to come through. When he proclaims, near the end of the first chorus, “I’ve got the greatest partner and man can get,” it feels like a major breakthrough, both for Leo and his marriage dynamic.

The second verse beautifully demonstrates Brown’s lyrical dexterity. With lyrics such as “make the hangman stop his drumming, ‘cause I’m coming into town to win the day,” with its end and middle rhyme combination and “somehow, I haven’t, with my scheming, screwed things up beyond redeeming,” with its alliteration of the “s” sound into a lyric that borders on tongue twister. It’s a brilliantly constructed set of lyrics that are wonderfully clever, but their cleverness doesn’t overwhelm the emotional heights the song is able to hit.

Music Theatre 101: Parade’s “This is Not Over Yet”

“I’m overcome by how good these lyrics are.”

The second chorus also has one of my favorite homophone pairings, the word “Hell,” in the line, “Hell, it’s just begun,” and “hail” in the line “hail, the resurrection of the South’s least favorite son.” The lines sound defiant and triumphant. The song closes with a reemphasis of the new connection between Leo and Lucille, and promises hope, even though the audience knows it is a promise that won’t be fulfilled. The song sounds so hopeful and optimistic that the eventually tragic ending feels all the more brutal as a result. At least Brown gives the characters one brief moment to believe they can succeed.

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