Manchester’s newest arts venue, the Hope Mill Theatre, an old mill converted into a fringe-style theatre and cafe, will be reviving the heart wrenching production of Parade in collaboration with London-based theatre producers Aria Entertainment and James Baker Productions.
It’s a powerful, emotive musical with a strong core message. With music by Jason Robert Brown, it is a production that will leave the audience in complete awe. The Tony award winning musical covers themes of race, religion, murder and political injustice, with a central love story that has a heart aching sense of hope.
The Hope Mill Theatre is an intimate space that will encapsulate the raw emotion of the musical and bring the vocals to life. The venue itself is only five months old, opened by Joseph Houston and William Whelton, both trained in musical theatre, they wanted to create a venue that brought theatre to life in Manchester. “We went in with a passion, drive and heart,” they explained.
Set in Atlanta in 1913, Parade tells the story of Jewish factory manager Leo Frank who is accused of raping and murdering a thirteen-year-old factory worker Mary Phagan. Throughout his trial and conviction, his wife Lucille stands by his side and fights for justice. It is a story of hope, injustice and love against all odds.
Tom Lloyd will be leading the cast as Leo Frank and he believes the venue will really capture the poignancy of the story. He explained: “I think the intimate venue serves the piece better. When they rewrote it with a cast of fifteen, I think the heart of the piece came out more. In the Hope Mill Theatre, it is very industrial and full of character, the story begins as soon as you enter the space.”
Matt Mills, who is multi-roleing as Newt Lee, Riley and Jim Conley in the production believes they couldn’t get the message across in a large theatre. Stressing the importance of it being performed in a space like the Hope Mill Theatre: “It is really close, you can see the pain in someone’s eyes, things you don’t see and feel in a full sized theatre. You need to be in it and you need to feel these character’s heartbreak in order for it to resonate with you.”
London based producers Aria Entertainment have jumped on this collaboration, seeing real potential in such an exciting and ambitious venture. Katy Lipson, a producer of the show, said: “What I love is that it is a contemporary musical, with a beautiful contemporary score, but it is also quite epic in nature. The story, the persecution, the drama and conflict. Every part of the story I think is heartbreaking, it is just an incredibly moving and powerful show that has always been on my bucket list to produce.”
In terms of the Hope Mill Theatre’s production, it is focusing on conveying the potency of the emotion to Manchester’s audiences. Katie added: “I think the essence of what the piece represents will always remain, but I think it is going to be very stripped back with the theatre we are working in. The artistic vision of what James wants to do, musically it is going to be thrilling and it should be very powerful in such an intimate theatre.”
Director, James Baker, has always had a longing to direct the show since he saw it at the Southwark Playhouse, “I walked into the performance, I sat down not knowing much about it and I just heard those drum rolls and I just knew it was going to be something special. And it was special, I left completely in awe of the musical,” he said. “This is something much more than a show, this is about a city, it is about changing a landscape. This is a musical that can really touch people and can also inspire and change the way in which we ultimately connect with theatre.”
As well as trained professionals, some of the cast are made up of current students at the Arden School of Theatre based in Manchester, who are making their professional debut. It is an incredible opportunity to not only put their name out there, but to showcase the talent of a Manchester based drama school. They described it as a platform for their career, working in a professional show with such prestigious producers provides them with a remarkable amount of experience, before they’ve even graduated.
The cast have a strong connection with the piece, but also with each other, just witnessing them perform and talking to them, they really show their utter love and dedication to the piece. Tom Lloyd said: “I feel I instantly connect to it because it is just so raw, in my heart I am playing an innocent man and that fight and that injustice feels real. Everything he says and feels I feel, and of course the love story in the centre of all of it, that is the heart of the piece for me.”
“It’s Jason Robert Brown, you can’t go wrong,” said Shekinah McFarlane who doubles as Minnie and Angela in the show. In regards to the music, Jason Robert Brown is an innovative composer whose music is masterly, Tom explained: “Jason Robert Brown just provides gifts of songs that are more mini plays as opposed to songs, the music is so evoking which helps the show because there are a lot of facts and information that are given to you in the most beautiful way.”
Everyone behind the production is exceptionally dedicated and their passion is infectious. With a cast of 15, a full set and an orchestra of nine; Parade has the potential to put Manchester on the map in terms of excellent, high quality theatre.
Parade is on at the Hope Mill Theatre from the 13th of May to the 4th of June and tickets can be found here.