You know it’s going to be a good show when in the first few moments a mass of goosebumps suddenly flood each and every part of your body and you’re sat there like some sort of awkward dot to dot.
We live in a time where certain musicals are definitely more on-trend than others – take Hamilton for example, Urinetown or Spring Awakening. With such a big task ahead of him, director James Baker, whose mission is to reinvent the theatrical landscape of Manchester, could have taken an obvious route with some current hit that ensures an audience night after night.
Instead he does what he does best – handpicks the best actors and imprints on a production the way Hollywood directors style their own. I’m pretty sure Baker could take on The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and still produce something relevant and on- trend.
Hope Mill Theatre played host to Parade which is their first in-house theatrical production. The mill itself is a beautiful venue and could easily transfer its use to the quirky nightclub scene but instead is a dedicated space to the production of fringe theatre.
Parade tells the tale of Leo Frank, a Brooklyn-raised Jewish man wrongly convicted of the murder of an employee. Already guilty in the eyes of the law his only defenders are a governor with a conscience and his wife Lucille who becomes his greatest champion.
Playing the music and lyrics of Jason Robert Brown, Musical Director Tom Chester leads a band of 9, somehow creating a great orchestral sound – which led me to type and delete the word ‘band’ more than a few times – it doesn’t quite describe the brilliant sound Tom and his team of musicians manage to create.
It’s hard to know where to begin with a cast void of weak links – I could categorise them by hair colour maybe, and start from that point onwards?
Taking the lead is Tom Lloyd as Leo Frank – with an impressive résumé to begin with you’re certain pre-performance you’re in for a treat. From the get- go the audience are embroiled in a love-hate relationship with his character which is continually reflected off the vision of his adoring wife Lucille, played by Laura Harrison.
As the plot advances there’s very little you can do other than confirm nobody else saw you cry.
Harrison who has worked with Baker previously as Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors and will continue to tour the UK in Kenwright’s Blood Brothers takes to the stage as Lucille Frank. From giddy Monroe-esque Skid Row inhabitant to southern picnic preparing wife – Harrison demonstrates the infinite scope of her acting ability. With outstanding vocal talents to boot you almost wish she was serving jail time with her husband so you get to see a little more of her. Her performance is utterly addictive.
There are points when the ensemble gather together and you wonder what you’ve done to deserve this – pretty sure I only paid £18 to be spitting distance away from quality that some West-End productions struggle to produce.
I’m already mapping out dates between now and June 11th to ensure that I get to see this production at least a couple more times – I’d strongly advise you do the same.