The most successful production of the Jason Robert Brown-Alfred Uhry musical PARADE was at London's Donmar Warehouse. Cut a bit and stripped down to a chamber musical that focused on character, the show was an intense piece of musical theatre. Now the Southwark Playhouse has mounted another small version of PARADE directed by Thom Sutherland and produced by the same folks who presented the brilliant revival of COMPANY at the Southwark last winter.
PARADE is far from a happy musical. It dramatizes the wrongful arrest, exoneration and lynching of Leo Frank, a Jewish businessman, in Atlanta in 1915. Frank is a hard character to play. He is not an easy man to like -- cold, unhappy, emotionally constipated. He was an easy target for corrupt police and an ambitious DA. Moreover, he was an outsider, a wealthy Northern Jew. Alistair Brookshaw sings well enough, but plays Leo rather monotonously with the same limited facial expressions. He relaxes a bit in the final scenes in which he comes to appreciate his stalwart wife, but he simply isn't a good enough actor to be the centerpiece of this musical, particularly after Bertie Carvel's superb performance at the Donmar. The supporting cast dominate the production. Laura Pitt-Pulford sings marvelously as Leo's wife, though she needs to vary her performance more from the frustrated wife to the courageous fighter to the loving wife. Mark Inscoe is properly oily as the DA and Samuel J. Weir stands out in a number of juvenile leading roles (there is much doubling among the hard-working cast of fifteen).
Like the Menier's ROAD SHOW, the production is on a transverse stage with the audience on two sides. The staging, simple setting and lighting are very effective.
This PARADE is cut some, but the cuts are all to the good -- Brown never knew when to cut an unnecessary number. I would have cut some of "Pretty Music" in Act II and sharpened the entire scene at the Governor's Ball. Even cut, the show runs over 2 1/2 hours. What's left is a well told story of the fatal clash of the old and new south and a beautiful score.
PARADE. Southwark Playhouse. August 11, 2011.