But something’s gone seriously wrong with Thom Southerland’s revival in the dark, dank vaults of the Southwark Playhouse. For a start, the sound system is harsh, horrible and too loud. It’s disconcerting enough in a small space not to hear the voice au naturel but miked out of all recognition is unbearable.
Secondly, the maudlin, emotional side of the story, in which a Jewish factory manager in Atlanta, 1913, is arraigned for murdering a teenaged girl on the grounds that he was the last person to see her alive, needs undercutting, not over-milking, as here.
And thirdly, in this version, the central story of racism, perjury and a witch-hunt straight out of The Crucible seems unattached to its framing references to the Civil War and the social life of Georgia, which is represented in some pretty routine choreography, a lot of simpering in white dresses and the curious sight of the state governor receiving his guests dressed as a cowpoke, or laundryman.
In this context, Jason Robert Brown’s score doesn’t seem quite so hot, despite the stomping opening number celebrating the old hills of Georgia, a soaring love duet for the convicted murderer and his loyal wife (Laura Pitt-Pulford) and some good blues and blue grass numbers.
As Leo Frank, Alastair Brookshaw gives a good, sustained performance of eccentric twitchiness, a little like an unfunny version of Robin Williams. And there’s a lot of solid glowering and lip curling from Mark Inscoe as the prosecuting lawyer to offset the prim chirpiness of Jessica Bastick-Vines as Mary Phagan and Samantha Seager as her distraught mother.
The show was co-conceived and first directed on Broadway by Harold Prince (who had wanted Stephen Sondheim to write the score) and has a strong, if sentimental, book by Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy) based on a real-life case, a fact underlined with a grisly life-size photograph at the end. But, on the whole, this Parade is no prompt for flag-waving.