FLORA, THE RED MENACEBook by David Thompson
Music by John Kander, and Lyrics by Fred Ebb
Director/Choreographer - Ann Nieman
Music Director - Scott A. Eckert
Founding Producer - Steve Jones
Production Stage Manager - Margaret J. Soch
Scenic and Properties Design - Jane Quetin
Costume Design - David Blades
Sound Design - Bill Eickenloff
Lighting Design - Julie N. Moroney
Flora - Kristin Dausch
Harry - Keith J. Warren
Charlotte - Danielle Estes
Willy and Others - Calvin Roberts
Mr. Weiss and Others - Jeff McGee
Elsa and Others - Jaclyn Stapp
Maggie and Others - Katharine Gentsch
Kenny and Others - Thomas Christopher Renner
Mr. Stanley and Others - K. Doug Miller
Reviewed Performance: 2/11/2011
Reviewed by Laura L. Watson, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Flora the Red Menace follows headstrong wannabe fashion illustrator Flora Mezaros, a member of an artists' co-operative of bohemian types struggling to find work during the Depression. Hoping to find a job paying at least $15 a week, she is hired by a large department store for $30. Flora falls in love with Harry Toukarian, another struggling artist, who attempts to convert her to his Communist ideals. Even though it compromises her job at the department store, Flora seeks to hold down both job and relationship (taken from Lyric Stage's website). It's the age old problem - happiness vs. doing the right thing. It is based on the novel `Love is Just Around the Corner' by Lester Atwell that was originally adapted by George Abbott. The book is by David Thompson, music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb.
Irving Art Center's Dupree Theatre is a large proscenium theatre that Jane Quetin's set design transforms into various locations in New York, mainly the co-op the artists live in and the department store. Making use of large white arches that have street lamp posts on one side and are plain on the other, desks (which are rolled in and out), the set changes are quick and often to the music. It's a realistic yet minimalistic set design, and it works very well. The costumes by David Blades are appropriate to 1935, well fit, and give us a glimpse into who the characters are. The spot on hairstyles (or wigs?) of each actor finish off these costumes with perfection. Lighting designer Julie N. Moroney utilizes lights to create mood and draw our attention to the real happenings of a scene (and hide various set transformations as needed).
Sound design by Bill Eickenloff was truly key, and it blended the miced actors perfectly with the live band that was placed upstage left (audience right) behind all the action. There were also some very nice sound effects added, such as the elevator ding. I did, however, crave a little music for intermission.
Director Ann Nieman, who also doubles as the choreographer, has assembled a fine cast of excellent singers. The dance numbers are on the slightly simplistic side, but they still entertain and keep the story moving. It was nice to finally see Kenny and Maggie dance together in an all out number that included both ballroom and tap dancing. The actors rarely stand still and the fast-paced blocking mixed with intricate set changes helps keep the energy of the show up. The scene in the elevator showcases each actor's physical acting capability. They all make mime and unified timing for starts and stops look easy. The use of a cyc screen for the protest scene made 2 or 3 actors look like a lot more. Scott A. Eckert is the music director, and since more of the show is sung than spoken, he carries the weight of this production. Luckily, he has a great band and on-pitch singers to delegate this responsibility to, and they most definitely pull their fair share.
The storyline itself is a little predictable, but it has many heartwarming moments. From Flora and Harry's innocent yet comical love that warms your heart here at Valentine's Day to the song "All I Need is One Good Break" that has every artist in the audience nodding their head and saying, "ME TOO!," it holds that magic of musical theatre. It's not a complicated story, and it seemed to end rather abruptly.
I know, personally, I needed a more "happily ever after" ending, but perhaps there was some sort of message about the consequences of associating with evil Communists that resonated with the original audiences back in 1965 that somehow passed by me. The final song was very sad, then slightly hopeful, and then, it was suddenly over. I guess I wanted one more song. No doubt these singers would have done well in that number, too.
The story calls for 9 actors to play over 25 roles, and not a beat was missed in the creation of all these roles. Kristin Dausch returns to Lyric Stage in the title role of Flora. She is quirky, charming and allows her voice to bellow and sore with ease. In previous reviews for other roles, she has been compared to a young Barbara Streisand, and I think these comparisons are spot on and a compliment to Dausch's talent. Yet, she brings her own sass and spunk to this role, too. She isn't without her softer moments, such as in the song Quiet Thing.
Playing her love interest is Keith J. Warren as Harry. With a beautiful tenor voice and earnest puppy eyed love/communistic ideals, he seems to be the calm to her passion. Harry has a strong stammer and also works as an artist, painting murals in the subways. Warren handles the stammering well and seems to truly believe in the Communist party almost to the point of convincing the audience it's the right choice, too. He doesn't have your typical leading man physique, but in a way, this makes him endearing to the audience.
As the story progresses and Harry is pursued by Comrade Charlotte, played by Danielle Estes, one must wonder why all these women are so hot for a poor stammering artist who is a loud and proud Red. That's where one must let "musical magic" take over. Estes has a very sultry voice and uses it well to convey her many meanings, though she could have been even more seductive towards Harry with her body. Calvin Roberts plays Willy, a clarinet player and other characters as needed, including at times the narrator. He has a beautiful speaking voice and a way of engaging the audience with even just a few words.
Mr. Weiss, the older jeweler of the group, is played by Jeff McGee and, like the others, plays many other characters as well. He makes the best use of various New York accents along with different physical manifestations of each character. Mr. Stanley is the staunch, strict department store boss of Flora, and K. Doug Miller brings all of this and more to the stage. Like the others, his acting muscles are flexed, allowing him to create one character after another.
Elsa is the fashion designer and is well played by Jaclyn Stapp. Maggie is the dancer, along with her love Kenny, and they are brought to life with innocence and spunk by Katharine Gentsch and Thomas Christopher Renner.
Lyric Stage's Flora the Red Menace is a lesser known musical that follows the formula of a traditional American Musical. If you like this formula, you'll love this show. If not, you'll probably still find moments that reach out and touch you.
Lyric Stage at The Dupree Theater
Irving Arts Center, 3333 N. MacArthur Blvd
Irving, Texas 75062
Runs through February 26th
Thursday, Friday, and Saturdays at 8:00pm, Sundays at 2:30pm.
Tickets can be purchased online at www.lyricstage.org or by calling 972-252-2787.