The latest UK production of Kander and Ebb’s early work Flora The Red Menace, at Ye Olde Rose And Crown Theatre Pub, Walthamstow, provides an evocative night of musical theatre that is not to be missed.
Last seen professionally in London over 15 years ago, and written in 1965 by the team that later had smash hits with Cabaret and Chicago, the show originally starred Liza Minelli as Flora, and won her a Tony award for Best Actress in a musical. This production has a few new numbers added from an 1987 update, and it’s theme of austere times seems to be just as relevant today.
It’s the 1930’s, and Flora Mezaros is a headstrong fashion designer who is struggling to find work during the Great Depression. She is a member of an artists' co-operative, and is as broke as her bohemian peers when she is stunned to get a job for $30 a week for a top department store. She falls in love with struggling designer Harry Toukarian, who successfully converts Flora to his Communist ideals. She tries to set up a union in her anti-union workplace, and eventually has to deal with a conflict of ideals and heart, as she tries to hold onto both job and boyfriend.
Possibly due to some flimsy plot devices and songs that are not always as memorable as Kander and Ebb’s later work, the 1965 production closed after just 87 performances. Nevertheless this musical is a bit of a lost gem, and has an integrity that makes this show uniquely special.
The very capable ensemble cast work well together, with Katy Baker holding centre stage as Flora, giving an amazing powerhouse performance that reflects both brilliant acting and vocal skills. Ellen Vereniekes is fabulously vampy as Comrade Charlotte, and Sam Linscott is hilarious as the quirky Harry. Aaron Clingham’s musical direction is as passionate and spot-on as always, and Kate McPhee delivers some very ambitious choreography in the limited upstairs theatre space.
Flora The Red Menace was never was a financial hit, but seems destined to keep returning as one of those ‘rediscovered works.’ All Star Productions, gives this surprise gift of a musical the high quality platform it deserves.
Runs until Friday 1st Jun 2012