At a time when anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice are spiking, Americans of all creeds and colors need to know about Leo Frank. The Jewish National Pencil Company factory superintendent was scapegoated in 1913 for the murder of a Georgia factory worker named Mary Phagan, and was convicted on the basis of trumped up, circumstantial evidence and eventually lynched by an angry mob.
“Parade,” which won the 1999 Drama Desk Best Musical and a Tony Award for both its score and book, richly captures not only the disturbing details of the case, but also the remarkable love of Leo and Lucille Frank. Twenty years later, Moonbox Productions in Cambridge is marching out a brilliant revival at the Calderwood Pavilion that captures the singular musical’s timely warning about the pervasiveness of anti-Semitism in particular and hate in general.
That pervasiveness finds an annual occasion to celebrate in Confederate Memorial Day, which sets the tone for the production. While Lucille Frank sees herself as a Georgia girl, her husband Leo is a Yankee from Brooklyn who feels like an outsider jostled and bumped by Southerners. As Alfred Uhry’s sharp script makes clear, the scapegoating for the Phagan murder was a large conspiracy between Georgia Governor Jack Slayton, unscrupulous district attorney and would-be governor Hugh Dorsey, and a number of false witnesses that Dorsey rounds up to bolster his flimsy case against Leo.
A telling, expressed ensemble sequence choreographed by Kira Troilo at the end of the first act shows the entire group dancing and cavorting to celebrate Frank’s conviction. Chelsea Kerl’s clever costumes serve as a kind of color code: religious extremist Tom Watson and Governor Slayton wear shades of red to represent the “red hills of Georgia,” while Leo and African-Americans wear dark suits to represent their persecution and manipulation.
Director Jason Modica keeps the Leo and Lucille-focused second act as taut and well-paced as the case-centered first. Phil Tayler has all of Leo’s naïveté and early trust, while Haley K. Clay contrasts well with Lucille’s savvy and tenacity. Their time together – especially during a romantic picnic, crackles with an authentic chemistry. Their emotional duet “All the Wasted Time” is stunningly poignant. Tayler delivers the seminal prayer “Sh’Ma” with great feeling.
Look for that feeling from the actors portraying villains and conflicted characters. Jerry Bisantz captures Dorsey’s scheming as he puts pressure on a parade of witnesses. Dan Prior proves equally convincing as jaded journalist Britt Craig and smarmy Governor Slayton. Aaron Patterson has scene-stealing vocal force as complicated witness Jim Conley. Other standouts in a stellar cast include Gabe Kinsman as Frankie Epps, Elbert Joseph as Newt Lee, Todd Yard as Watson and big-voiced Yowande Odetoyinbo as Frank’s housekeeper Minnie McNight.
Last season Moonbox Productions brought chilling impact to “Cabaret.” Without exaggeration, its “Parade” is as good as the original at Lincoln Center and easily the best midsize production of the year.
“Parade,” Moonbox Productions, Roberts Studio Theatre, Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts, through Dec. 28. 617-933-8600 or bostontheatrescene.com.