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Saturday, 24 March 2012

Parade - Unicorn Theatre - Friday 23 March *****

A musical about a 1913 miscarriage of justice when a Jewish factory supervisor in Georgia is wrongly convicted of the rape and murder of a 13 year old girl, leading to a wave of anti-semitism across the United States and the re-emergence of the Ku Klux Klan did not sound like a barrel of laughs. However, Jason Robert Brown, music and lyrics, and Alfred Uhry, book, both won Tonys for the original 1999 Broadway production and we kicked ourselves for having missed the production at Southwark Playhouse last year, for which we heard nothing but praise.

In a lucky twist of fate, the final year students from Rose Bruford’s Actor/Musician course, who did such a good job with Sondheim’s Assassins in 2011, were staging Parade at the Unicorn theatre the day after we’d seen 2nd Company’s professional take on Assassins at the Pleasance, so we bagged a couple of tickets and headed down to London Bridge on a gorgeous sunny Spring afternoon. After making a detour via Gilbert and George’s London Pictures at the fabulous new White Cube Bermondsey, same old G & G but at least you know what you’re going to get, we arrived at the Unicorn in time for a post-lunch pre-show snifter. However, nothing could prepare us for what was to follow.

You probably won’t believe me, but this was quite simply the best production we have seen so far this year in London. Admittedly that excludes Sheffield Crucible’s Company and Leicester Curve’s Gypsy, but that is an extremely high bar to reach.

The performances are sensational, the band/cast sound incredible, I was in floods of tears throughout and, despite us loving their Assassins last year, it was quite unexpected. We were totally transported to the southern states of the USA in the early part of the last century and completely transfixed and appalled by the drama that unfolded in front of us.

As the entire ensemble is flawless, it would be churlish to single out individuals for praise, so I won’t. The shining cast comprises Mark Newnham, Megan Leigh Mason, Alicia Marsden, Stewart McCheyne, Khali Best, Sheridan Lloyd, Holly Cassidy, Max Runham, Max Gallagher, Dean Ryan, Claire Lore Petzal, Rolf Morck, Alex Tosh and Grace Bird. All of them are astonishing.

To hear Jason Robert Brown’s sumptuous score, encompassing ragtime, gospel, blues, folk and traditional ballads, played by what is effectively a 14 piece orchestra is a total delight. All of the actors play at least one instrument, many play several, and we were simply floored by the talent on show in front of us.

They received a well deserved standing ovation and should have returned for a further curtain call, but were probably entirely unprepared for the reaction they received. I blogged earlier this month how the future of musical theatre is in safe hands after seeing Mountview’s production of the Light in the Piazza, I am happy to know that my twilight years will be also filled with alumni from Rose Bruford.

Booking until 24 March 2012 only, don’t miss, it is sensational - Parade

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