Everything about James Baker’s Parade is a triumph and if you are in or around Manchester, you really should get a ticket. Just go.
The dimly lit, eerie walls of Manchester’s newest performance space, Hope Mill Theatre stand with pride to present the harrowing true story about the trial of Leo Frank. Frank was a Jewish pencil factory manager in Atlanta who was tried for raping and murdering Mary Phagan in 1913. The intimate performance space in the old cotton mill provides the perfect backdrop for this emotionally charged and troubling narrative driven by the murder of the thirteen-year-old girl in the factory where she worked.
The super talented cast of 15 manage to cover 38 roles between them and all give stand-out performances. There is a beautiful balance between heartfelt, raw emotion and technical brilliance from Tom Lloyd as the accused Leo Frank; Laura Harrison gives a breathtaking vocal performance as his doting and determined wife, Lucille Frank. James Baker’s ensemble pieces are always a highlight too – under William Whelton’s stylish choreography, wielding their confederate flags and clicking their heels, the dynamic cast deliver to Jason Robert Brown’s finely crafted score. There is no weak link here.
There are memorable performances throughout from Matt Mills and Shekinah McFarlane, particularly during their second act opener – playing two of the Governor’s African American employees, they deliver a soulful and spirited ‘A Rumblin’ And A Rollin’, showing that racial tensions were still running high fifty years after the American Civil War had ended. James Wolstenholme proves his versatility as a performer – slipping into the ruthless shoes of desperate hack Britt Craig to deliver an outstanding rendition of Real Big News before stepping up as the authoritative Governor of Georgia, John Slaton.
Victoria Hinton’s stripped back set is split into 3 simple sections to aid the fluidity of the narrative with adaptable wooden pallets giving a constant reminder of the factory environment.
There’s a lot to be said about bringing musical theatre to an intimate setting like Hope Mill Theatre. Watching the performers emerge from within the audience, so close that you can see the beads of sweat on their foreheads and the tears rolling down their cheeks, is really something special. Add to this a wonderful 9 piece live band under the superb direction of Tom Chester and Mancunian producer Katy Lipson of Aria Entertainment, and Mr James Baker has raised the bar for Fringe theatre once again.
I urge you to get a ticket for Parade. Just go.