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Music and Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown; Book by Alfred Uhry

Alastair Brookshaw [L&R]
Laura Pitt-Pulford [R]

Simon Bailey, Mark Inscoe, Kelly Agbowu, Jessica Bastick-Vines, Michael Cotton, Terry Doe, Natalie Green, David Haydn, Abiona Omonua, Philip Rham, Samantha Seager, Victoria Serra, Samuel J Weir

Director: Thom Southerland
Design: John Risebero
Sound: Theo Holloway
Lighting: Howard Hudson
Musical direction: Michael Bradley

Southwark Playhouse, London 27 August 2011

This musical (1998), bookended with Confederate Memorial Day parades to start and finish, is based on the real murder of 13-year old Mary Phagan in Altanta 1913, for which a Jewish factory manager Leo Frank, an outsider in Georgia, was blamed, convicted, abducted from prison and lynched.

Given in Southwark's vaulted theatre (under a Victorian railway arch) and played on a long, narrow action space, between the audience at close quarters either side, the impact of this piece about hysterical anti-Semitism in Georgia a century ago was overwhelming, lacking nothing on account of the minimal staging - as big a contrast with a typical American musical in a large theatre as you could imagine.

At such close quarters, one could admire the smooth and persuasive production of Thom Southerland and his cast, every member of which was wholly in character throughout (even doubling some of the parts). I even regretted that it moved too swiftly to allow for applause after some of the best numbers. A pity that the authors resorted to Confederate anti-black prejudice, as a last moment "explanation" of a murder mystery which, in actuality, was never solved; the real Leo Frank was granted a posthumous pardon in 1986. This was a show for which we were lucky not to have read the programme synopsis until afterwards, so we were in tenterhooks wondering how the second Act would resolve.

No weakneses in the cast. And the music was projected under Michael Bradley's persuasive direction (the cast could see him guide the tempo and maintain momentum on video monitors) and they achieved good sound balance by the end of the first week, when we saw it, engineered by Theo Holloway at just the right volume [q.v. Controversial reviews & opinions *].

Recommended wholeheartedly, even to readers who have supported our long running campaign against excessive amplification, particularly for Indian Classical Music, still often given with "inevitable over-amplification - - even bordering on the pain threshold!", which alienates British concert audiences.

Peter Grahame Woolf

* q.v. Controversial reviews & opinions upon the first night - ** to ***** -
with vociferous responses to What's On Stage's Michael Coveney
e.g." Please, please, please will you stop sending him to review musicals. It's obvious he hates the whole art form!"...


Photos by Annabel Vere