Posted on October 2, 2007 at 11:45 pm

Lisa Martland’s review here.

Parade

By Lisa Martland
Published Tue 25 September 2007 at 13:35

Despite running for only 84 performances at New York’s Lincoln Center back in the late nineties, Parade still won Tony Awards for its composer/lyricist Jason Robert Brown and librettist Alfred Uhry. Since then the former has been regarded as the cream of a new breed of American songwriters, even labelled by some as a Sondheim in waiting.

Certainly in true Sondheim fashion the two writers are not put off by a subject’s complexities, in this case the infamous 1913 trial of superintendent Leo Frank, accused of strangling a 13-year-old child at the pencil factory where they both worked. A Northern Yankee and a Jew, Frank became a figure of hate for the community and press of the Deep South. When his case was re-examined and sentencing reduced from hanging to life imprisonment, an angry lynch mob decided to dish out its own form of injustice instead.

This is by no means a perfect piece of musical theatre – despite recent rewrites there is still some editing to do and occasionally it becomes a little self indulgent. However, these flaws do not leave a lasting impression, what does is the dramatic power of the majority of scenes when the book and score gel so well. The way Robert Brown adapts his score to different musical styles is also particularly impressive.

Rob Ashford’s production may be slickly staged but it also sustains an intense intimacy, both in the large set pieces and in the final emotional stages of Act II when Frank and wife Lucille rediscover their love for each other (within a strong cast Bertie Carvel and Lara Pulver give outstanding performances in these two lead roles). And while sympathetic to Frank’s plight, the director/choreographer is adept in allowing the ambiguity of what took place on that fateful Confederate Memorial Day in 1913 to remain.

With the help of lighting designer Neil Austin, Christopher Oram’s barren set exudes the atmosphere of factory, court house and jail, while the shadow of the American Civil War is never far away.

Donmar Warehouse London
September 24-November 24

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