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A CurtainUp London London Review

You're saying he's honest, you're saying he's decent but you're not saying he's innocent! — Tom Watson journalist said to Mrs Lucille Frank
Alastair Brookshaw as Leo Frank
(Photo: Annabel Vere)
What is amazing about Parade is that Alfred Uhry, the author of the book of the musical, is the great nephew of the man who owned the pencil factory that Leo Frank (Alastair Brookshaw) managed in 1913 in Atlanta, Georgia. This is a part of Uhry's family history and maybe why the case has the ability to capture the imagination of its audience today. It is a story of a man who, out of his usual environment, and in a marriage that was far from ideal, found himself a victim not only of Anti-Semitism but also of the North South divide 50 years after the Civil war had set American against American.

People continue to argue today about the rights and wrongs of the case against Leo Frank: there is opinion on both sides although most are convinced now of his innocence, but what ultimately happened to him was wrong by any moral code. Leo Frank was the victim of knee jerk, mob violence more usually doled out to black men accused of raping whites. The main evidence against Leo Frank comes from the black sweeper Jim Conley powerfully sung here by Terry Doe. We are told that this was the first time in the South that the word of a black man convicted a white man.

Parade is a deeply moving musical, dark and penetrating, very different from the schmaltzy or sentimental themes of others of its genre but all the more satisfying for that. I saw it first at the Donmar Warehouse a few years back and now gladly see it revived at the intimate Southwark Playhouse on a narrow traverse set bringing the audience into close proximity with the players. It is divinely sung throughout from the picture framing opening of the young war hero from 1865 (Samuel J Weir), with a fest of Confederate flags, singing "The Old Red Hills of Home" to his sweetheart. The simplicity of the set still allows for a balcony and a prison at the edges.

There are emotional highpoints to the show. One is undoubtedly the funeral of the 13 year old Mary Phagan (Jessica Bastick-Vines) with her coffin carried by other young girls. Hugh Dorsey (a handsome Mark Inscoe playing a ruthless man) prosecutes with the governorship of Georgia as the intended prize of his political ambition. The girls are carried along in a Witches of Salem type hysteria: "his eyes get big, my face gets red, and I want to run away . . " they sing and this segues into one of my favourite numbers from this show, the jaunty "Why Don't You Come Up to My Office?"

Alastair Brookshaw plays Leo Frank. Tightly held in, slight of stature and pernickety, Frank isn't the kind of man you naturally warm to but it is a super acting performance and Brookshaw's tenor voice is excellent. It was Leo Frank's "odd demeanour" which made the police suspicious when they went to his house and asked him to open up the factory. Playing his wife Lucille, Laura Pitt-Pulford has a voice as strong as Lucille's conviction of her husband's innocence. The beautiful melody, "All the Wasted Time" sees her with her husband allowed some time together in the jail after his reprieve.

The staging of the lynching is the only point at which we remember this production is on the fringe but even so the life sized drop curtain of one of the authentic photographs taken by those present in Marietta is disturbing. Full marks to Southwark Playhouse for giving Londoners another opportunity to see, what is for my money, the very best musical of the last decade of the last century.

Steve Oney worked for 17 years researching the case of Leo Frank. His 2003 book And the Dead Shall Rise - The Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank is the result. The memorial at the site where Leo Frank was lynched reads

Leo Frank 1884 -1915
Wrongly accused, Falsely convicted
Wantonly murdered, Pardoned 1986.

There are those who still, in the defence of the murdered little girl, proclaim Leo Frank's guilt. Here from the Atlanta Journal, a different epitaph:
"On Thanksgiving eve 1915, a few months after Frank was hanged, the Ku Klux Klan held its first modern-era cross-burning atop Stone Mountain, several miles east of Atlanta. Three members of the lynching party were present."

See Elyse Sommer's review in New York for the complete song list and many more details about the history of the case here.

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Music and Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown
Book by Alfred Uhry
Co-conceived and directed on Broadway by Harold Prince
Directed by Thom Southerland

Starring: Alastair Brookshaw, Laura Pitt-Pulford, Mark Inscoe, Terry Doe
With: Kelly Agbowu, Simon Bailey, Jessica Bastick-Vines, Michael Cotton, Natalie Green, David Haydn, Abiona Omonua, Samantha Seager, Victoria Serra, Samuel J Weir
Choreography by Tim Jackson
Design: John Risebero
Musical Director: Michael Bradley
Musical Supervisor: Ian Vince-Gatt
Sound: Theo Holloway
Lighting: Howard Hudson
Running time: Two hours 30 minutes including one interval
Box Office: 020 7407 0234
Booking to 17th September 2011
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 16th August 2011 performance at The Vaults, Southwark Playhouse, Shipwright Yard, Corner of Tooley Street and Bermondsey Street, London, SE1 2TF (Rail/Tube: London Bridge)

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