“Parade”

Donmar Warehouse, London • 27 October 2007 • 2:30pm
Music & Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown. Book by Alfred Uhry. Co-conceived by Harold Prince.

Director & Choreographer: Rob Ashford. Musical Director: Thomas Murray. With Bertie Carvel (Leo Frank), Lara Pulver (Lucille Frank)…

I missed Parade when it originally opened on Broadway in December of 1998 because it folded after two months for lack of an audience. It was awarded two posthumous Tony Awards (one for Best Book of a Musical and another for Best Score of a Musical… although the Tony for Best Musical strangely went to Fosse). The Donmar Warehouse is giving the show its UK premiere in a production directed by Rob Ashford, who was the original production’s Assistant Choreographer.

As was already evidenced by the CD, Parade is a brilliant and deeply disturbing show. It deals with the Leo Frank case, the story of a Jewish man convicted of murdering a 13 year-old factory girl in Georgia in 1913, who was lynched by a Ku Klux Klan mob when his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment after it surfaced that some of the evidence against him had been forged. (To this day, the controversy hasn’t ended, although there is very strong evidence pointing to Frank’s innocence, most notably the late confession of a factory worker in the 1980s.)

Parade combines a hauntingly beautiful score and a strongly built book. From the first song, “The Old Red Hills of Home,” sung magnificently by Stuart Matthew Price and Steven Page, soon joined by the entire company, it is obvious the show is going to be no ordinary experience. Rob Ashford has conceived a staging in which the story unfurls cinematically in the Donmar’s tiny but highly theatrical space. The cast is tremendously good, with glowing performances from Bertie Carvel and Lara Pulver as Leo and Lucille Frank. My only complaint is that nobody even tries to use convincing accents.

Parade is contemporary musical at its best. It is also, at times, theatre at its best. The fact that it didn’t manage to attract an audience in New York is a sad sign of the times. It is playing to sold-out houses at the Donmar, but this is only a limited run. Here’s hoping London can give this wonderful show the chance that it deserves.

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