A tragedy surrounding a young girl? A grieving parent? A suspect damned by circumstantial evidence created by police anxious for a conviction in a high profile case? A woman crusading for justice? The media whipping up public opinion to a frenzy of hatred? No, the Whingers weren’t flicking through one of this mornings tabloids, (they are all tabloids aren’t they these days?) but sitting watching a musical: Parade at the Donmar Warehouse.
Phil couldn’t help seeing parallels with current events (despite having only one contact lens in due to an eye infection).
Andrew couldn’t see much at all as he was nodding off.
But then Andrew likes his musicals upbeat. He’s much happier at a Gypsy or a Hello Dolly. Give him a feather boa, a walk-down number and a follow-spot (and that’s just in the comfort of his own home) and he’ll be happy for hours.
Unfortunately for Andrew, Parade offers none of these delights; it’s made of much sterner stuff: no enjoying yourself here, thank you very much – this is a serious musical.
Parade is based on the true story of Brooklyn Jew Leo Frank (Bertie Carvel – excellent) who was spuriously convicted for the murder of a 13 year-old factory girl called Mary Phagan in Atlanta, Georgia in 1913. He ended up being lynched in the time-honoured tradition of Southern hospitality.
Given the subject matter there’s little room for big numbers and sequins. But aware of the pitfalls of creating a musical surrounding such a serious subject the creators (book by Alfred Uhry, Music & Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, co-conceived by Harold Prince) have tried their darndest to inject a little levity every now and then to keep Andrew’s chin off his man-boobs. But even these (the moments of levity, not the man-boobs) sit rather uncomfortably and Andrew longed for the deft alchemy of Kander and Ebb.
Predictably, by the interval Andrew had put on his favourite cracked record – his thesis that “The Musical Is Not A Serious Art Form And That Is Not A Criticism” and was shaking his head sadly, wondering when the musical was first hijacked for inappropriate purposes; whenever it was, it was the the thin end of a slippery slopey wedge which culminated tragically in the truly pompous, humourless and entirely terrible Rent (and continues to the present day with what is hopefully its death throe – viz Take Flight).
Phil, on the other hand was “sitting on the fence and falling between two stools”(the latter not related to his recent pre-holiday “health” checks). As usual at the Donmar, Phil was mostly preoccupied with his evergreen laundry list of irksome things to complain about at the Donmar: small toilets and notably rotten site lines (even for “friends” of the Donmar).
The programme boasts of the venue’s “unique thrust stage”, but doesn’t mention that the unique thrusting treats half the audience to a crap view. Several duets were played out with the Whingers staring at the back of a head which also masked the other performer’s face. To counteract this Phil leaned towards Andrew to try and get at least one face in his line of vision, thus disturbing Andrew’s nap, who woke up believing Phil was “getting fresh”. But it’s Andrew who needs to get fresh: Phil, like Mary Archer, is actually rather fragrant.
On the plus side (and setting aside the lyrics) it was mostly comprehensible although the action begins with a seemingly unnecessary prologue set in the Civil War some 50 years earlier, but you need to read the programme (or possibly hear all the lyrics – who knows?) to understand this device: it’s a north/south thing apparently, feelings in Georgia were still high and support for Leo Frank from the north was seen as outside interference.
As Leo Frank and his wife share a final tryst in his cell the moment was spoiled for Phil who noticed Frank’s bottom to be a rather strange shape as his trousers were unsuccessfully concealing a flying belt for the show’s dramatic lynching (ho hum, the second hanging on the London stage in as many weeks. Yawn). Leo’s bum certainly looked big in this (except to Andrew whose own looks big in everything).
And talking of seconds, Phil sat through his third production containing the nigger “w” in as many weeks.
Parade wasn’t bad; it was all quite competent and the preview audience received it very enthusiastically at the end with much clapping partly, perhaps, out of frustration: the show is engineered to discourage applause at the end of each song (wisely, given the running time of two hours and 45 minutes).
But neither Whinger was really much moved by the whole thing. While it wasn’t quite on the level of “one would have to have a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell without laughing” it was a curiously unemotional experience.
Much of the singing was fine but the choreography got rather wearing what with all the running round in circles and slapping of table tops.
By the end Andrew had had more than enough, he was intent to rain on this Parade. Phil was much more positive but Parade had certainly passed Andrew by and although he did come out humming a tune, it was “Doe, a Deer” (again).