Parade at Southwark Playhouse Vaults

The Jason Robert Brown fan in me had a serious squeefest when I was invited to attend the Press Night of this new production of “Parade” at the Southwark Playhouse Vaults.

First, a note about the theatre. I adore these little “under the railway arch” type theatres and this one is one to add to my list of theatres I love. Such a beautiful space, which was used perfectly for this production. Being an arch I worried about the sound, but I needn’t have worried as I found as soon as I sat down that even people on the other side of the room could be heard as if they were sitting right next to me.

Parade tells the story of Brooklyn born Jew Leo Frank, who is falsely accused and convicted for the murder of a young girl. A true story based in 1913 Atlanta, Georgia, this show was nominated for nine Tony Awards during its first previews on Broadway in 1998. Today, 17th August 2011 marks 96 years since Leo Frank died so seeing the show last night was particularly poignant.

Alistair Brookshaw made a very believable Leo Frank. He was every inch the tormented Jew and had an excellent singing voice to back up his strong acting. I found him most touching during the final moments of the show when he sung “sh’ma”. I was very surprised by Brookshaw’s ability to switch from uncomfortable, stubborn man to letcherous sleaze during the fantasy scene “Come Up To My Office”. What I found slightly odd, however, was what I am assuming was the director’s choice of a standard American accent rather than a Brooklyn accent for this character. I expected to hear a Brooklyn accent as the show references several times that Leo is from Brooklyn.

Laura Pitt-Pullford was a heartbreaking Lucille Frank. Miss Pitt-Pullford obviously has vocal chords of steel to sing such a demanding role without seemingly batting an eyelid! I adored how the character grew throughout the show and was portrayed perfectly by such a talented actress. Another standout for me was Samuel J Weir, who plays Frankie Epps. The venom showed by the character at moments in the show was absolutely terrifying to behold and backed up by absolutely fantastic vocals.

Overall, I felt that the cast of this show could not have been any stronger. The harmonies within what is a very difficult score were executed with such precision and perfection that they were a joy to listen to. It takes a well rehearsed and triple threat cast to bring life to such a difficult piece and this cast delivered perfectly. Jason Robert Brown is famous for complicated pieces that are a treat to the ear, and Parade is no different. Serious kudos to musical director Michael Bradley and all involved in the music of this production – it is perfection!

Direction was by Thom Southerland and on the most part was fantastic. I adored the staging of the show and that it gave you just enough to set the scene, but much of it was open to imagination. One thing that did not impress me was the inclusion of a poster print at the end of the show. After much of the show being so open to interpretation it was odd to be presented with a kind of “this is what that looks like” moment.

Overall I felt the show was a triumph and a credit to musical theatre. I have been talking a lot about supporting new shows lately and although this show isn’t “new” as such (it premiered on Broadway in 1998), if you haven’t seen the show I suggest you get down to the Southwark Playhouse Vaults and have a good look. Tickets are Airline Style with them being cheaper the earlier you book. Prices are £10, £16.50 or £22.50 so seeing this fantastic show will not break the bank. This production is an excellent version of what is a very difficult show both to perform and for audiences to watch.

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