Leo Frank (Jon Schelb) and his wife, Lucille (Liz Wheeler), in Parade
Yet the musical was staged for only a few months, partly because the dark drama about injustice and anti-Semitism challenged audiences.
Committed to presenting important works about Jewish culture and history, Gallery Players will open Parade on Saturday in the Jewish Community Center.
"It's a haunting musical about social issues, race, religion and the position of men and women in society at a time when women didn't vote and couldn't sit on juries," director Frank Barnhart said. "Unfortunately, those aren't issues of just one particular time period. We can't help but watch this show and see ourselves."
The composer and playwright -- Jason Robert Brown (The Last Five Years) and Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy, The Last Night of Ballyhoo) -- based the musical on the real-life trial of Leo Frank, the Jewish manager of the National Pencil Factory in Atlanta who was accused of raping and murdering a 13-year-old employee, Mary Phagan, in 1913.
Uhry drew from his experience as a child in Atlanta and his connection to the story: His great-uncle owned the factory.
The infamous trial, which sparked the creation of the Anti-Defamation League, raised questions about justice in the South.
"The trial aroused anti-Semitic tensions in Atlanta and throughout Georgia," said Jared Saltman, cultural-arts director of the center.
"The plot stays close to the historical story's conclusion that the likely killer was drifter Jim Conley, a key witness against Frank at the trial. The true villains of the piece are the prosecutor, Hugh Dorsey -- later the governor of Georgia and then a judge -- and the rabid publisher, Tom Watson, who was later elected a U.S. senator."
When the musical folded after less than three months on Broadway, much commentary pointed to its tragic ending, Barnhart said.
"Parade also doesn't have what people refer to as hummable tunes," he said. "Brown's score almost has a Sondheim style . . . and a contemporary operatic feel. The music is written the way people speak -- with scenes and monologues that happen to be sung."
Gospel, ragtime and rhythm and blues help evoke the period atmosphere.
The songs have proved demanding for Jon Schelb and Liz Wheeler, who star as Frank and his wife, Lucille.
"The score is quite difficult, . . . replete with intricate, often-unexpected rhythms and tough choral music," Schelb said.
"The score is very modern and with a wide range. . . . Most are belting songs," said Wheeler, who is making her Gallery Players debut after stints with Actors' Theatre (Macbeth) and Columbus Children's Theatre.
Her favorites include You Don't Know This Man, a poignant defense of Leo; and All the Wasted Time, a husband-wife duet.
The latter, performed near the end of the second act, is "about how we have spent the whole beginning of our relationship emotionally apart and we didn't know how much we loved each other," Wheeler said.
"I love Lucille because she goes through such a huge journey. She starts out as a very mousy woman who just isn't aware of what's going on. But by the end of the show, she's become a strong pillar in the Jewish community."
His tragic role, Schelb said, is challenging.
"In the beginning, he comes across as cold, distant and awkward. In the first act, Leo is harsh toward Lucille and remains indignant about his situation through almost the conclusion of his trial."
The actor related most easily to the convictions of his character.
"I was most touched by Leo's steadfast belief and faith that right and justice will ultimately prevail, even if he does not live to see it.
"At the end, faced with the inevitability of death and still proclaiming his innocence, he maintains that all he has endured was part of God's plan."