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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Donmar Warehouse

By Matt Wolf

  Bertie Carvel and Lara Pulver /PH: Johan Persson

The cycle of silly London musicals (most of them unnecessary revivals) comes to a full-throttle halt with Parade, the Jason Robert Brown/Alfred Uhry musical whose London premiere was widely anticipated ever since the same show's 1998 Broadway premiere cut short its Lincoln Center run after a few months. The British capital, as we know, likes a Serious Musical (to wit, the clean sweep of Best Musical awards achieved last season by Caroline, or Change), and they don't come much more serious than Parade. Indeed, an unleavened grimness may remain the principal stumbling block for those who prefer even the most sinister, bloodthirsty of shows - Sweeney Todd anyone? -accompanied by wit. But on its own, sometimes overearnest terms, Parade delivers, and doubly so in a truly compelling, propulsive staging that marks the directorial debut of the Tony-winning Broadway and West End choreographer, Rob Ashford (Evita, Guys and Dolls).

Those who saw this musical's New York premiere- directed by Hal Prince, who also co-conceived the venture - will no doubt recall the presence of the hapless Leo Frank as a symbolically martyred blot on a racist southern landscape that was dominated by a tree - the equivalent, in design terms, to Leo as viewed by his adoring wife Lucille, who refers to her husband as "loyal and stable as any tree." It's one of the many clever approaches of Ashford, who was in fact both dance captain and a swing on the otherwise entirely separate Broadway version, to take us inside the head and heart of a factory superintendent accused in 1913 Georgia of the murder of a young employee, Mary Phagan, who was two months shy of her 14th birthday. Why should Leo Frank have got the rap? Because he was a Yankee Jew at odds with the baying bloodlust of a community whose hatred extended well beyond the blacks. Who are they gonna blame,? asks the Georgia governor, Jack Slaton, who is wise to the changing ways of a citizenry that would seem to have taken its idea of social justice from the pages of The Crucible. The real courtroom on view in Parade is the one that mob rule carries with it, straight through to a sorrowful ending that marks the one sequence where Ashford seems defeated by the demands of so small a space. (Special kudos, incidentally,to Neil Austin's lighting, which is as often as revealing of character as Alfred Uhry's book.)

At least this time around, one can share in the sorrow, an onlooker's feelings always complicated by leading man Bertie Carvel's decision to play Leo as a twitchy, anxious human being, not just the Jew-as-victim. His smile alternately unnerving and sweet, one begins to wonder, especially in the first act, whether the outcast Leo in some spasmodic loss of control might not actually have committed the murder that shocked the America of nearly a century ago in much the way that Madeleine's McCann's disappearance has fixated a global public these days. Playing the role with an apt ambiguity that could earn this musical the subtitle, Doubt, Carvel lends such tremulous shading to Leo that one only wishes composer/lyricist Brown had taken the opportunity to guide us even further in that direction in the second act. Instead, the four new songs on offer fall mostly to Mark Bonar's Hugh Dorsey, the prosecuting attorney, and to Guys and Dolls alumnus Norman Bowman as


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