Interviews

Interview: Carolee Carmello and Micaela Diamond on Playing Lucille in Parade

The original and revival Lucille Franks share their personal journeys with the beloved musical.

Carolee Carmello walks West 45th Street and has a blast from her past while living in the present. Directly across from the Imperial Theatre — her home as the evil Stepmother in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Bad Cinderella — is the first-ever Broadway revival of the musical that essentially launched her career, Jason Robert Brown and Alfred Uhry’s Parade.

Carmello originated the role of Lucille Frank, the headstrong Atlanta housewife who takes it upon herself to try and save her husband Leo, who was wrongly convicted of murder. Playing Lucille now is Micaela Diamond, an actor on a similar path as Carmello’s, poised to become one of Broadway’s biggest talents following her dynamic turn. We caught up with the pair to discuss the emotional musical and their respective histories.

Carolee Carmello and Micaela Diamond at the opening of Parade
(© Michaelah Reynolds)

This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Carolee, what is it like for you to be working within eyeshot of Parade, and Micaela, do you feel pressure knowing that Carolee is performing directly across the street from you?
Carolee Carmello: Yeah, it’s pretty weird. I remember standing in the middle of 45th Street when we first moved into the Imperial, looking left and looking right, and feeling like it’s my whole life in one little block of New York City. I’m thrilled Parade is being done again, and I’m thrilled for Micaela. I know she’s brilliant, though I haven’t been able to see it yet because of our schedule. I’m excited that audiences get to experience that show, that score, that brilliant writing again. But it’s weird to be so close to it and yet so far away. It was such an important part of my life, and still is kind of the artistic highlight of my life.

Micaela Diamond: Since the New York City Center run, Jason Robert Brown has paid homage to everybody who has kind of had their hand in this show. I think the original was sacred for him. He was my age when he first started writing, so it’s been a part of his life in a big way, too. Everybody who’s had a hand in the piece [over time[ has gotten us to where we are today, and everybody in the room now feels so much luck to be doing it, because the theater community knows how beloved the piece is. So, it’s not lost on me how much I listened to Carolee in my ears for so long [on the original cast recording], and now I’m doing it and she’s across the street.

Can you talk about your respective journeys with your respective productions?
Carolee
: I didn’t really know anything about it when I auditioned for it. I had known Jason a little because I did a show called John and Jen, which he did the orchestrations for. I guess Hal Prince had come to watch the show, because he was an incredible supporter of young artists. That’s how I got the audition for Parade, which, at the time, was just going to be a reading we did in Philadelphia.

I read the description of the character and tried to dress appropriately for the audition, but I didn’t know the real story of Leo and Lucille Frank at all. Then, when we did the reading I just remember…You do these readings of new musicals all the times in this business, and sometimes, in a very rare moment, you go “Wow, this is kind of incredible, isn’t it?” This wasn’t just another reading of a show. There was something incredible about this show.

There were a couple of moments where they were going to recast it. Hal actually called me at home to say that they felt like they had to hire somebody else to do Lucille. They had decided that I wasn’t right, type-wise. I think they said they wanted someone who looked more like the real-life Lucille. So, Hal calls me at home, and it was breaking my heart because I loved the show. But he said, “We have this one reading that’s scheduled next month, would you do it for us as a favor because you know the show?” And I was like, you know what? It’s breaking my heart, but I will absolutely do it because the piece is so good that to have another chance to work on it for a week is a gift.

It all turned out ok after that, but it was touch and go. I just was so grateful to finally make it. The first day of Broadway rehearsals at Lincoln Center, they sent me home pretty early because I already knew the music, and I stood outside the rehearsal room and listened to the ensemble singing “Old Red Hills of Home” and burst into tears. I felt so grateful to have made it to that moment and to be a part of the show.

Micaela: I’ve always thought that Jason writes such specific language for Jewish people, and there are just a handful of Jewish roles in the canon, so I was drawn to it. I can vividly see myself in high school listening to that album, like, no skips, which is a big thing for a cast album. There are so many styles of music in the show, but it was not necessarily an album I could sing along to. The score was really hard for me, and I think when I got the call to audition for a reading we did four years ago, I was nervous because I loved the music but I didn’t really know how to navigate it.

Why not?
Micaela
: It’s funny, something I hated about my voice when I was younger — four years ago — was that I have this really strong break, and I was always trying to smooth it out and fix it so I could be this mixy Broadway singer. When we started rehearsals for City Center, Jason was like “You have to find your own voice. You have to stop doing Carolee.” I was so in my head that all I could do was you, and I had to figure out what my Lucille was. Part of it was learning to love the way my voice sits and how different it is from the other kind of big, belty singers on Broadway.

“You Don’t Know this Man” is a great example of how I had to find my own voice within the piece. I love the original cast album so much that I had to stop listening to it once we started the City Center run, so I didn’t fall back into some of those habits. There are a million moments where I think of you and feel inspired by you within the show, but there’s one part that I just can’t sing differently from the album, and I hope that when you see the show, you’re like “That sounds like me,” because I’m so inspired by you. It’s in “All the Wasted Time,” and I think of you every night when I sing “Still too proud to crawl.” I can’t figure out how to sing “Crawl” any other way besides how you sing that beautiful note.

Carolee: That’s lovely, thank you. I can’t wait to experience it with all the memories that I have and all the new things that you’re bringing to it.

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Parade

Final performance: August 6, 2023