Thom Southerland’s revival of Harold Prince and Alfred Uhry’s brooding ‘Parade’ is only the second musical in Southwark Playhouse’s history, and the first to be staged in its Vaults space.
If this is as good as the acoustics get, perhaps it should be the last. The first half hour or so of this musical dramatization of the downfall of Leo Frank – a Jewish factory superintendent living in Atlanta, Georgia, tried then lynched in 1915 for a murder he didn’t commit –- is hard work. The complex ensemble vocals are mired in soupy sound and radio mics make a mockery of the intimate seating.
But by the second half, Southerland’s ‘Parade’ has found its groove. That’s partly because Alastair Brookshaw’s highly strung Leo becomes so much more sympathetic as his prissy facade thaws; partly because the best singers – Terry Doe’s shady Jim Conley, Laura Pitt-Pulford as Frank’s wife Lucille – get some blood and thunder (apocalyptic blues numbers ‘A Rumblin’ and A Rollin’ and ‘Feel the Rain Fall’ are superb).
Mostly it’s because the sound is cleaner and we can now work out what’s going on. Leo’s emotional salvation on the eve of his physical destruction is truly heart-wrenching stuff.
It’s hardly the Donmar’s 2007 production, but this fringe ‘Parade’ comes good in the end. It’s just a shame to think how much stronger it might have been elsewhere.