Review: Parade, Southwark Playhouse *****

The vast, subterranean vaults of Southwark Playhouse make a particularly apt location for Jason Robert Brown’s Parade; dark, gloomy and stifling, the setting perfectly captures the diseased air of turn of the century Atlanta.

With the superlative 2007 Donmar production still relatively fresh in mind, Parade has a distinguished pedigree to live up to. Fortunately, in musical theatre wunderkind Thom Southerland’s hands, this Parade marches joyfully up to the bar.

the quality of this riveting production surpasses many more commercial offerings

Assembling an astonishingly talented cast, Southerland firmly nails his theses to the wall – musical theatre on the fringe should be of the same quality as the West End. The intimacy of this staging ensures that dictat – at times, the quality of this riveting production surpasses many more commercial offerings. Laura Pitt-Pulford as Lucille is a breathtaking vocalist and compelling actress. The heart of Parade is the development of Lucille and Leo’s relationship, and driving this, Pitt-Pulford runs the emotional gamut with confidence. Alastair Brookshaw as Leo, is the perfect, pent-up foil; twitchy to her extravagance, nervy to her fervour. Brookshaw and Pitt-Pulford head a peerless cast, including an exceptionally powerful Simon Bailey as Tom Watson, a delicate Samuel J. Weir as the Young Soldier/Frankie Epps and a blistering vocal performance from Terry Doe as Newt Lee/Jim Conley/Riley. Southerland works his cast hard, doubling and tripling characters where necessary, but it is testament to their abilities that each character is sufficiently differentiated so as to keep the story clear.

Michael Bradley, as Director of a seven piece band, ably manages Brown’s complex score with dexterity and flair, never intrusive, but rather allowing the intricacies of the score to ring out as an additional character. The traverse staging, enjoying something of a fashionable renaissance at the moment, engages the audience as participants while perfectly showcasing Tim Jackson’s choreography, allowing the exuberance of the company to explode at times, only to segue to something more sinister.

Jon Riseboro’s design is simple yet haunting, and Howard Hudson’s evocative lighting suggests the changing times and spaces that frame the story.

At times, a little judicious cutting might not go amiss; musically Act One has moments that sag a little, and occasionally Southerland’s demonstrative direction can jar but Danielle Tarento and Joe Fredericks, as producers, have undoubtedly scored a theatrical coup here. Parade is, quite simply, practically perfect.

***** (5 stars)

Runs until 17th September

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