Local 18-year-old actress Sophia Manicone’s wildest dreams came true a year ago when she was first cast in New York City Center’s acclaimed production of Parade. That production has since transferred to Broadway where it recently earned six Tony Award nominations. Manicone plays Iola Stover, one of the factory girls in this Jason Robert Brown musical about the 1917 trial and lynching of Jewish factory worker Leo Frank (Ben Platt), wrongly convicted of murdering factory girl Mary Phagan.
Broadway is the culmination of years of growth in DC-area theaters. The Vienna, Virginia, native grew up performing at theaters such as Creative Cauldron, Toby’s Dinner Theatre, Next Stop Theatre Company, Dark Horse Theatre Company, and more. As she closes out her senior year of high school and looks ahead to the final months of Parade’s run, DC Theater Arts caught up with her to learn about the journey so far.
DCTA: How did you first get into musical theater and when did you know you wanted to do it professionally?
Sophia Manicone (she/her): I first got into musical theater because when I was in elementary school, I was really shy. I had trouble talking to other people, raising my hand, and talking in class. I had a teacher suggest that I take a theater class. I took a theater class at Harmonia, in Vienna, Virginia, because it was right down the road. I was really nervous at first, but I ended up really liking it and it really clicked for me. I ended up taking singing classes and acting classes. Before I knew it, I met more people, and I was encouraged by friends from community theater to audition professionally. I made it into my first professional show when I was 11 years old. I played Tina Denmark in Ruthless at Creative Cauldron.
I’d love to ask more about Creative Cauldron and its Bold New Work series highlighting social justice issues. What impact did that have on you?
Doing those shows there was really eye-opening to me. I was able to really see the power of theater; like, not only is it fun, but it’s a tool to change how we view things in society [and] hold a mirror up to society. One of the first times I saw that was when I did Witch at Creative Cauldron. It was a feminist musical and it took place at the Women’s March in DC, something challenging that, you know, showed one perspective. There were some people who agreed with it and some people who didn’t agree with it, but we were making a statement. It was really cool getting to see that theater can do that; it can make change and spark new ideas. And of course, that carries through to Parade. I’m lucky I was able to already experience having some people who like your show, and some people not like your show. It was good prep.
Going from that into Parade: It’s been a wild ride over the past year. What was your knowledge of Parade prior to the process?
I was first introduced to Parade when I was doing A Christmas Story at Toby’s Dinner Theatre. The girl that I shared a dressing room station with was singing all the songs from Parade. And I was like, “What is that song? It’s so catchy.” She introduced me to Parade and I started listening to the cast album and became totally obsessed. My whole family listened to it with me in the car. And it’s actually really funny: last year before I auditioned for Parade, it was in my top five albums on my Spotify Wrapped. I’ve always really loved the show.
How were all the auditions and callbacks?
The audition process was unlike anything I’ve done before. It was really quick, actually. This year, my mom had made me promise that I wasn’t going to do shows. She was like, “You need to focus on college applications, maybe do one show at school, but make sure you’re getting all your essays done.” I saw the notice, but I was like, “I’m not gonna do shows.” And people just kept sending it to me. The last day that I had to film, I was like, “Mom, I really want to do this. Will you help me film this tape?” And she was like, “Okay, fine,” thinking it wouldn’t go anywhere because it was a New York City job. We filmed the self-tape together, sent it off, and I didn’t hear anything for a week.
I was sitting in the computer lab at school, having issues with my laptop, and I finally got my email to work. As I was sitting there with our tech guy, I got the email that I had a callback for Parade. I started totally freaking out. And that computer lab teacher was like, “What?”
I got to go up to New York and sing a couple songs for them. In the room, it was Jason Robert Brown, Michael Arden, and Tom Murray, our music director. It was just so scary, but so exciting at the same time, getting to perform for people that you’ve idolized your whole life. But it was such a magical experience. I’ll never forget how they were so supportive and so engaged in watching the audition. It made it way less intimidating. You could tell they just cared so much about the project. When I left that audition, I was like, “Well, I don’t know what will happen. I felt like it was pretty solid. But we’ll see.” A couple days later, I got the call. I was crying on the phone. It was such a dream come true.
Between City Center and Broadway, what’s been different in your prep work, with the wider and wider impact of everything?
I will say that I’m glad when I auditioned it was for City Center. It didn’t have the Broadway label on it, which made it less scary. I was lucky, I just got the call, “Do you want to transfer?” so I didn’t have to re-audition. Luckily, a lot of the things that we did at City Center stayed with the Broadway production. So I knew a lot of blocking and acting choices. And I felt really prepared going into the Broadway production, having done a version of the show before, and knowing so many of the people already.
I will say one thing that has shifted: seeing the outreach that our show has. We have a much bigger audience now. And we’re really lucky we have a long run, so many people are able to see it. And so many people are being impacted by the show, which happened with City Center but not on the same scale. So it’s just been really, really, really cool to see that.
I wanted to ask about Iola Stover and the factory girls and those dynamics: there’s false testimony, but also she’s supporting her friend. Could you talk about that?
Yeah, yeah, she’s an interesting character. You know, I would say it’s hard playing a character that does bad things, or doesn’t have the best morals, but I definitely try to look at it from her standpoint. She’s a young girl, she’s 14 or 15 years old in the early 1900s. And if these men who are in charge, like Mr. Dorsey, are telling her that she has to say this, of course, she’s gonna listen to them. I think she’s just really young and she’s easily manipulated and easily persuaded. And she’s just saying what she feels like she has to say. I also feel like, you know, if people in the town are saying, “Well, Frank murdered her friend,” she thinks what she’s doing is right. She doesn’t have evil intentions. She thinks that she’s finding justice for Mary. That helps me feel a little better about it while playing the role.
How are the dynamics among all the other young actors?
There are four young girls and two younger guys in the show. Three of us are seniors in high school. So we all really get what we’re going through. The other girl, Ashlyn, is out of college [Ashlyn Maddox, who recently played Jane Doe in Arena Stage’s Ride the Cyclone]. She plays Monteen, she’s been like a big sister to the three younger girls. And she’s been a really good mentor, showing us how to live in the city and live on our own. I remember when I first got here, one of the first weeks, she came over, and she was like, “I’m gonna show you how to make yourself real food.” And the two younger boys in the cast are also very kind. We all just get along really well and it’s been really cool finding our little group and navigating the world of Broadway together. We all got to make our Broadway debuts together, which was really special.
What are you learning from the adults, as well?
This show is really cool because we get to sit on stage pretty much the whole time, so I get to watch all of the adults every night. Seeing how they stay so engaged and they’re so active and they listen to each other in every scene and react, honestly getting to see that has been really cool. And the offstage dynamic of it, with how everyone treats each other with so much care. We really have created such a loving safe space. There’s no competition among the cast. We’re all there to lift each other up. All of the adults have set such a good example of that.
What are the next steps in terms of college, and what was it like auditioning for schools at the same time as this show? Do you have your decision yet?
Yeah, so the college audition process was insane; anyone who auditions for musical theater gets it. I think I applied to like 25 schools. I ended up auditioning for maybe 13. I took a lot of schools off my list once Parade came up, because I was like, “There’s no way, I just can’t fit everything in.” So I really had to think about what I want from my education, and I was lucky to have a lot of offers.
On my days off on Mondays, I would try to go to places. I’ve flown to different places Sunday night, I would tour Monday, come back Tuesday and do the show Tuesday night. I looked at lots of different schools, I explored a lot of options, and I ended up deciding to go to Pace. I was able to go there on one of my days off. It’s in the city, which is really convenient. I was able to watch a class and I got to see how great the professors are and see how supportive the students were of each other and how talented they were. It just really felt like the right fit for me. I’m excited to be able to stay in the city and I’m already so comfortable here and I wouldn’t want to have to leave my home. So I’m happy.
I read in the Broadway World article that you did that there was one night that a lot of people from the DMV came to see Parade?
During City Center, I was really lucky a lot of people came up to see the show. And recently, lots of people have been coming up on the bus and the train, and it’s been so nice to see how your community stays with you, even when you’re not physically there. The DC theater community is so special. It’s so small and so interconnected. Everyone knows everyone and there’s so much support there. So it’s been really great getting to see familiar faces coming up to see the show and meeting people that I didn’t know personally but maybe I had heard of them or we have mutual friends, they’ll come to the stage door and be like, “I’m from Oakton” or “I’m from Arlington.” It’s such a small world.
What are your biggest hopes for the last few months of the run and next year?
I would say that I just really hope that people that want to come see the show are able to come see it. And I hope that we’re able to really tell our story and hold a mirror up to society. I hope that we’re able to shift people’s perspectives, and I hope that we are able to really raise awareness towards antisemitism in America and how that has still carried over through the years. And personally, I hope that adjusting to college goes well and I hope that I continue to find my way and figure things out.
Parade plays through August 6, 2023, at Broadway’s Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre – 242 West 45th Street, New York, NY. Tickets (starting at $59, plus fees) are available online or through Telecharge at 202-239-6200.
COVID Safety: Masks are optional but recommended.
A heartrending and resonant revival of ‘Parade’ at Broadway’s Jacobs Theatre (review by Deb Miller, March 25, 2023)