Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Review: Moonbox Productions' PARADE: Attention Must Be Paid

Review: Moonbox Productions' PARADE: Attention Must Be Paid

Parade

Music and Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, Book by Alfred Uhry, Co-Conceived and Directed on Broadway by Harold Prince; Producer, Sharman Altshuler; Director, Jason Modica; Co-Producer, Phil Tayler; Music Director, Catherine Stornetta; Associate Director/Dramaturg, Allison Choat; Choreographer, Kira Troilo; Set Design, Lindsay Genevieve Fuori; Production Stage Manager, Cesara Walters; Lighting Designer, Steve Shack; Properties Designer, Jennifer Butler; Costume Designer, Chelsea Kerl; Sound Designer, Elizabeth Cahill; Fight Choreographer, Robert Isaacson; Hair and Wig Designer, Peter Mill; Dialect Coach, Daniel Thomas Blackwell

CAST (in order of appearance): Phil Tayler, Anna Bortnick, Gable Kinsman, Brad Peloquin, Anne Sablich, Jerry Bisantz, Todd Yard, Andrew Child, Dan Prior, Angela Syrett, Lilli Jacobs, Katie Elinoff, Haley K. Clay, Yewande Odetoyinbo, Elbert Joseph, Aaron Patterson; ORCHESTRA: Catherine Stornetta, Rebecca Elaine Miller, Dan Zupan, Mindy Cimini, Priscilla Chew, Megan Riccio, Stanley Silverman, Kent Walters, Doug Lippincott

Performances through December 28 by Moonbox Productions at the Roberts Studio Theatre, Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, Boston, MA; Box Office 617-933-8600 or www.bostontheatrescene.com, www.moonboxproductions.org

As the year winds to a close, and the holiday hustle and bustle keeps us spinning our wheels, it can be a salve for the spirit and rest for the weary to sit in a darkened theater for a couple of hours. There is a plethora of seasonal fare competing for your entertainment dollars, but may I suggest something completely different from the colorful, holly jolly? A departure from the ballerinas, Christmas ghosts, and department store Santas? How about a two-time Tony Award-winning musical (1999 Best Book/Best Score) written by Pulitzer Prize-winner Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy) and Tony Award-winner Jason Robert Brown (Songs For a New World, The Last Five Years), that will pump the blood to your heart, and push you back in your seat until the very end, when you will rise up and salute this Moonbox Productions' Parade.

There are a number of Moonbox musicals that stand out in my memory, among them Floyd Collins and Cabaret. What these two shows (that were staged approximately eight years apart) share with Parade is their leading man, Phil Tayler. Only this time around, Tayler (Leo Frank) also wears the hat of co-producer as the driving force behind convincing Moonbox Producer/Artistic Director Sharman Altshuler to put it on this season. He persuaded his friend and former classmate at Boston Conservatory, Jason Modica, to direct the show that they had first worked on together as students ten years ago. Their concept of the story taking place "in a kind of limbo between life and death" allows Tayler's character to be onstage for most of the play, observing scenes and hearing conversations that Frank would not have been privy to, substantially elevating the emotional quotient and enhancing the dramatic heft of the book.

Leo Frank is the pivotal character in the true story about a Brooklyn-born Jew living with his southern wife in Atlanta in 1913, who is wrongly accused of killing 13-year old Mary Phagan (Anna Bortnick), a girl who works in the pencil factory he manages. Its themes of anti-semitism, blaming the "other," yellow journalism, and political grandstanding speak loud and clear to our cultural moment, requiring a certain amount of intestinal fortitude from the audience. One can't help but hear echoes of "fake news," "witch hunt," and be reminded of the angry accusations and manipulations flung about by certain representatives during recent congressional hearings. The saving grace is that, although the tale being told is true, the rest of it is theater, and I daresay theater of the highest order.

Tayler's performance is, by necessity, nuanced, as he shouldn't draw too much attention when Leo is the observer, yet he is always fully engaged with the action playing out in front of him. When he is the subject of a scene, he lets us know who Leo is and the angst he suffers being way outside of his comfort zone. The relationship he shares with Haley K. Clay (making an impressive Boston professional debut) as Leo's wife Lucille progresses along a well-defined arc, being rather formal in the beginning, and evolving as he realizes her strengths and learns to trust and accept what she brings to the fight. For her part, Clay inhabits Lucille's evolution from an easygoing, genteel wife to an assertive, determined partner, and wows with the clarity and power of her beautiful soprano voice. When Clay and Tayler pair up for the eleven o'clock number ("All the Wasted Time"), their emotional urgency feels genuine and well-earned, and the song is one of many musical highlights.

Once Leo is arrested and charged, a combination of laziness and dastardliness on the part of the district attorney (Jerry Bisantz, excellent), fabrications by witnesses, zealousness for a good story by the beat reporter (Dan Prior), and blatant bigotry by a publisher (Todd Yard), result in his conviction and death sentence. However, that is not the end of the story as Lucille petitions the governor (Prior) to examine the facts more closely. After seeing how everything unfolded and picked up steam in the first act, the second act shows the unraveling of the carelessly constructed case against Leo and offers a glimmer of hope that right will win out. Anyone who has seen the show before, or who knows the history, or reads the program notes, will know how the story ends, but it is to the credit of Modica and the cast that their performances are compelling and give nothing away in advance.

Speaking of compelling, Aaron Patterson (Jim Conley) is a scene-stealer whenever he is on stage. He has the gift of an incredible voice and gets into the skin of his character. Note that he is still a junior at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee and has previously received attention for his part in the SpeakEasy Stage production of Choir Boy earlier this year. Another BOCO student making his Boston professional debut, Gable Kinsman (Frankie Epps/Young Soldier) conveys the immaturity and indignation of the flirtatious teenager Epps, and adds his strong voice to the ensemble. Prior does a great job of differentiating between his two characters, the drunken reporter who sensationalizes the story, and the governor who, somewhat reluctantly, rises to the occasion. In a trio of roles, including Leo's less-than-stellar defense attorney, Andrew Child displays great range. Rounding out the cast are Brad Peloquin (Judge Roan/Old Soldier/MacDaniel), Anne Sablich (Mrs. Phagan/Sally Slaton), Angela Syrett (Iola Stover), Lilli Jacobs (Monteen), Katie Elinoff (Essie), Yewande Odetoyinbo (Minnie McKnight), and Elbert Joseph (Newt Lee). In an era of theatrical austerity, the fact that there are sixteen actors in the ensemble and nine musicians (under the virtuosic musical direction of Catherine Stornetta) is extravagant, even if several cast members play multiple roles.

With the usual configuration of the Roberts Studio Theatre altered to allow for a wider stage, set designer Lindsay Genevieve Fuori employs several tiers and spaces for Leo's office, the Frank's home, the factory basement, and the jail, among others, and lighting designer Steve Shack further suggests time and place. Costume designer Chelsea Kerl, hair and wig designer Peter Mill, and properties designer Jennifer Butler evoke the period appropriately, and Elizebeth Cahill provides effective sound design. Kira Troilo's choreography is inventive and well-executed, and fight choreography by Robert Isaacson is realistic.

Parade premiered on Broadway in December, 1998, and closed in February, 1999, had a U.S. National Tour in 2000, and was performed in 2007 at Donmar Warehouse in the U.K. It was the Broadway debut of Brown, who was a mere 23-years old when Harold Prince hired him to compose the score (after the project was turned down by Stephen Sondheim). In the liner notes of the Original Broadway Cast Recording, Brown describes his young man's fantasy that one day he might get to work with Prince, the guy whose name was on all of his favorite albums, and that he would write a musical that would "Say Something." Mission accomplished on both fronts, and very well said by Moonbox Productions. Oh, and that suggestion I made in the lede paragraph? I'd like to change the word to urge.

Photo credit: Sharman Altshuler (Phil Tayler and Cast of Parade)



Chester Theatre Company Announces 2023 Season Photo
Recently appointed Co-Producing Artistic Directors James Barry and Tara Franklin have announced Chester Theatre Company’s 2023 season, the first under their direction. Barry and Franklin are known for their award-winning work on the Town Hall Theatre stage, and they are now heading the organization and programming works for Chester audiences.

Silkroad Presents TRAIN STATION TRIOS: Songs & Stories Of The American Railroad Photo
 Silkroad has announced a new series of concerts, Train Station Trios: Songs & Stories of the American Railroad, that is tied to its multi-year initiative led by Artistic Director Rhiannon Giddens. In the series, local scholars and Silkroad artists will gather to shed light on hidden chronicles and powerful stories through new music and storytelling, painting a richer and more accurate picture of the origins of the American Empire.

Neal McDonough to Star in HUNTING WHITEY at Bostons Historic Wilbur Theatre for One Night  Photo
Neal McDonough will return to his native Boston to play notorious Irish crime boss James 'Whitey' Bulger in the stage adaption of the true crime bestseller Hunting Whitey: The Untold Story of the Capture and Killing of America's Most Wanted Crime Boss at Boston's historic Wilbur Theatre for one night only - Tuesday, May 16, 2023.

Enjoy February School Vacation Fun at Cotuit Center for the Arts! Photo
Cotuit Center for the Arts will offer a wide variety of family-friendly programming during February school vacation, running daily Tuesday-Friday, February 21-24, 2023. 


From This Author - Nancy Grossman

From producing and starring in family holiday pageants as a child, to avid member of Broadway Across America and Show of the Month Club, Nancy has cultivated her love of the art and respect for the... (read more about this author)


Review: TORCH SONG at Moonbox ProductionsReview: TORCH SONG at Moonbox Productions
December 8, 2022

What did our critic think of REVIEW: TORCH SONG at Moonbox Productions?

Review: LITTLE WOMEN: THE BROADWAY MUSICALReview: LITTLE WOMEN: THE BROADWAY MUSICAL
December 1, 2022

Have there ever been such devoted sisters as the four March girls, birthed by Louisa May Alcott in her postbellum semi-autobiographical novel LITTLE WOMEN? Director Ilyse Robbins shows her abiding affection for the story with her devotion to its heart and soul on display in the production of the 2005 Broadway Musical at Greater Boston Stage Company.

REVIEW: THE EDGAR ALLAN POE DOUBLEHEADERREVIEW: THE EDGAR ALLAN POE DOUBLEHEADER
October 28, 2022

If you have yet to reach your fright limit for the Halloween season, you still have two chances to experience chills of the dramatic variety at THT Rep at the BrickBox Theater in Worcester. Reprising the production she created for small, socially-distanced audiences of 20 in the early days of the pandemic, Artistic Director Livy Scanlon is performing THE EDGAR ALLAN POE DOUBLEHEADER in front of 290 stadium-style seats.

REVIEW: THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOWREVIEW: THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW
October 26, 2022

Two hundred years after Washington Irving introduced the little hamlet of Sleepy Hollow and its superstitious denizens to the canon of American literature, the legend remains among the most enduring of stories that capture the imagination of adults and children alike, inspire questions about the supernatural realm, and scare the bejesus out of its audience.

Review: AUGUST WILSON'S JOE TURNER'S COME AND GONEReview: AUGUST WILSON'S JOE TURNER'S COME AND GONE
October 22, 2022

JOE TURNER'S COME AND GONE was the first Wilson play produced at the Huntington in 1986, the beginning of a 19-year relationship that saw all ten of his American Century Cycle plays chronicling the African American experience in the 20th century performed on the local stage.