Critics upbeat about latest production

The Donmar Warehouse revival of the 1998 Jason Robert Brown/Alfred Uhry tuner “Parade” is a staging of a show many believe never got its due. The New York premiere shuttered after only 85 performances, with many pointing to Harold Prince’s pricey original production for Lincoln Center Theater as the chief problem. However, the much-admired show won Tonys for book and score on top of six Drama Desk Awards.

Presented by the Center Theater Group at Los Angeles’ Mark Taper Forum, the dark tuner has been stripped down by helmer-choreographer Rob Ashford and the score beefed up with two new songs and some trims to other numbers by Brown. It opened Oct. 4 to generally upbeat reviews, suggesting that New York producers may want to take notice.

Donmar transfers have become an increasingly frequent presence on Broadway, with “Frost/Nixon” and “Mary Stuart” in recent seasons and “Hamlet” with Jude Law opening just last week. So the odds appear favorable for a much-admired show that many pundits feel has not yet had a definitive New York production.

“Parade” tells the horrifying story of a Jewish man who moves from Brooklyn to Atlanta and is tried and subsequently lynched on trumped-up charges of raping a local girl. Reviewing the new production, West Coast crix universally admired the direction, design and performances — even those who find the show’s melancholy handling of its subject matter a downer.

Here’s what the critics said:

  • Variety‘s Bob Verini wrote that the Donmar version is “revealed as a work of extraordinary depth and thematic resonance,” calling it “by any standard, Southern California’s production of the year.” “Ashford’s approach exhilarates with the power of pure theater,” he added. Verini gives props to all the actors, singling out (as do others) triple-cast David St. Louis, along with leads T.R. Knight and Lara Pulver: “Wholly embracing Leo’s unpleasant qualities, Knight nails each step in his realization of what Lucille means to him, with Pulver maintaining a proper balance between awareness of his shortcomings and her helpless love.”

  • Warning readers that “this is not the fluffy stuff most musical entertainments are made of,” the L.A. Times’ Charles McNulty nevertheless calls the production “a potent antidote to the jukebox mindlessness running rampant today and an urgent reminder of what contemporary composers are still capable of achieving.” McNulty’s beef is more with the material than the staging: “Uhry’s book doesn’t make it easy for newcomers to the saga to sort out all of the principal figures,” he says. But he gives credit to “outstanding talents” in the cast for filling in some of the gaps, particularly Michael Berresse and Charlotte d’Amboise. Still, he says, the tweaks and tighter presentation probably “won’t vindicate the musical for those who found the show distant and impersonal when it was first done.”

  • In a rave review for Reuters, Les Spindle calls the show “triumphant … leaner and more intimate than Harold Prince’s slick staging” and “a richer realization of the show’s galvanizing themes.” He deems the cast “magnificent,” Christopher Oram’s set and costumes “inspired,” Neil Austin’s lighting “exquisite” and Tom Murray’s music direction “sublime.” Spindle closes his review with the line “Here’s hoping this shimmering production instigates a renewed interest in this neglected masterpiece.”

  • Though Paul Hoggins doesn’t say a word against the production, his review in the O.C. Register still quibbles with the show’s unsparing bleakness: “There’s so much to admire in director Rob Ashford’s smartly reconceived production of ‘Parade’ that I feel like a traitor for saying that I didn’t absolutely love it,” he confesses. The tweaked show is “in many ways an improvement on the original,” Hoggins says. But ultimately, “it’s too heavy a subject for a Broadway show. Compared to its story, which begins with a rape and murder and ends with a lynching, ‘Sweeney Todd’ is a light-hearted romp.”

  • Frances Baum Nicholson took issue with the book’s stereotypes of Red Staters. Her review in the Pasadena Star-News also praises the expertise of the show’s interpreters but is bothered by the writing: “It’s just so pat, and that’s not what one expects from Uhry,” she says. “On the other hand, the thing is beautifully produced, and spectacularly well performed.”

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