FCPS student lives out dream with Broadway debut in ‘Parade’ revival

Fairfax Academy and Madison High School student Sophia Manicone made her Broadway debut in a “Parade” revival, which started at New York City Center (courtesy FCPS)

Sophia Manicone has come a long way from her “Vienna Idol” days.

The 18-year-old Vienna resident recently realized the dream of every theater kid with her Broadway debut in the revival of “Parade,” which officially opened yesterday (Thursday) at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre in New York City.

Starring Tony winner Ben Platt and “The Cher Show” breakout Micaela Diamond, the musical explores racism and antisemitism as a dramatization of the real-life 1913 trial of Jewish American factory manager Leo Frank, a case that stoked the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan and led to the creation of the Anti-Defamation League.

Manicone — a senior at the Fairfax Academy for Communications and the Arts with Vienna’s James Madison High School as her base school — plays Iola Stover, a factory worker who testifies against Frank.

She joined the revival’s Off-Broadway premiere at New York City Center (NYCC) in November and learned a month later that she would be part of the transfer to Broadway. She was one of 18 cast members making their debut when the show began previews on Feb. 21.

“It’s so unbelievable. It still doesn’t feel real,” Manicone told FFXnow by email. “Being a part of this incredible cast is so thrilling. I’m performing alongside people I listened to (and sang along with) on cast recordings since I was a little kid. The people in the cast and the creative team have been welcoming and supportive. I feel so lucky!”

Fairfax County Public Schools recognizes Sophia Manicone for her Broadway debut this month (via FCPS/Instagram)

Manicone traces her love of theater back to the musical films and cartoons she watched as a young kid. A trip to see “Mary Poppins” on Broadway when she was 3 cemented that infatuation, leading her to pursue her first audition in New York when she was in second grade.

“My parents got us tickets in the last row of the theater in case I wasn’t able to sit through the show,” she recalled. “But apparently I didn’t move an inch and was mesmerized — especially when Mary Poppins flew across the theater!”

Manicone’s journey to the Great White Way began in earnest on the Vienna Town Green, where she made her first big public performances competing in the annual “Vienna Idol” fundraiser, she told DC Theater Arts in 2016.

She was 9 when she won the title in 2014 with “her booming Broadway voice,” The Connection reported at the time. From there came roles in local theater productions, including her first professional lead role in Creative Cauldron’s “Ruthless! The Musical.”

Because of her community theater work, Manicone says her ability to participate in school plays was limited, but in sixth grade, she appeared in “Seussical” at Louise Archer Elementary School. She also sang choir in her elementary and middle school years.

“I had amazing teachers and as a middle schooler, it was wonderful having such a supportive environment where I felt I belonged,” she said.

Musical theater teacher Erich DiCenzo saw that Manicone had the “it factor” needed to succeed in the performing arts as soon as he met her at Fairfax Academy, where she played Katherine Plumber in “Newsies” during her junior year.

As director of the program’s Musical Theatre and Actor’s Studio, which offers courses to students interested in theater as a career, DiCenzo says Manicone has been “a true joy to teach” over the past three years, praising her work ethic, passion and kindness as well as her talent.

“I’d be hard-pressed to think of someone more deserving,” DiCenzo said of Manicone’s Broadway debut. “As her Director, I couldn’t feel more pride. I look forward celebrating Sophia’s success in New York City when I see the show. After seeing her in the New York City Center’s production, I assure you this is one you won’t want to miss!”

Manicone says she’ll “never forget” the phone call she got while eating lunch on Sept. 17, informing her that she had been cast in NYCC’s production of “Parade.”

She beat out over 500 other actors for the role of Iola, and many family members, friends and teachers from both Fairfax Academy and Madison traveled to see her perform during the show’s five-day run, according to City of Fairfax Schools, which hosts the academy at Fairfax High School.

After learning that she would be in the Broadway production as well, Manicone moved to New York City around Jan. 28 — at the same time she wrapped up auditions for college. With “Parade” set to run through Aug. 6, she has been finishing her high school classes online and is on track to graduate on time.

However, the demands of professional theater have meant giving up some aspects of student life, as she told Madison’s student newspaper earlier this year, and this show is no exception.

“I am so grateful to Fairfax County and my school’s administration. They’ve been very supportive,” Manicone said. “…I’m not sure I’ll be able to make it to graduation though. I have shows six days a week. We’re still looking into whether I could attend graduation in the morning and make it back to NYC for an 8 p.m. curtain.”