Flora the Red Menace

Flora the Red Menace opened on Broadway at the Alvin Theatre on May 11, 1965, produced by Hal Prince and directed by George Abbott. This was John Kander and Fred Ebb’s first Broadway show and starred a nineteen year old Liza Minnelli as Flora, the start of her long association with Kander and Ebb. Minnelli won a Tony award for her performance, the youngest recipient at that time but the show was not a success, closing after 87 performances. Maybe it was the light hearted look at communism that jarred with the US audiences or maybe it was the ‘leaden book, long since deceased’ as Hal Prince later put it.
The show was revived in off Broadway in December 1987 with a totally new book by David Thompson and the reinstatement of some of the original Kander and Ebb songs. Directed by Scott Ellis with choreography by Susan Stroman, it had a much reduced cast and it is this version that was produced at Hampton Hill Playhouse.

Cast & Creative

Cast List

Character Actor
Flora Sue Astbury
Harry Bryan Cardus
Charlotte Lizzie Brignall
Willy Hamilton Faber
Elsa Franny Gustafson
Kenny Andy Clarke
Maggie Debbie McDowell
Mr Stanley Chris Morris
Mr Weiss Andy Yeates

Creative Team

Role Name
Director Tony Makepeace
MD Carole Smith
Tap Choreographer Melanie Edwards
Stage Manager Drew Barnes
Production Manager Lottie Walker
Costume Wendy Godwin
Lighting Ed Pagett

Reviews & Awards

SWAN Awards

  • Nominated SWAN Award Best Female Performer in a Musical  – Sue Astbury
  • Winner of SWAN Award Best Male Performer in a Musical – Bryan Cardus
  • Nominated for SWAN Award Best Musical

This was a pacy and intimate production which was performed in the round, or square to be more accurate. Whilst cast members sang snatches of reprises the slick cast of nine moved the various benches, boxes to impressively change the scene. More of a play with music, this show requires quality actors and preferably actors who play instruments in the style of John Doyle’s productions. This was a very high standard production.

 

I think my summary above is a fair reflection of the impact this show had on me. I had vaguely heard of the title but I had assumed that like many other shows of that era it had become lost due to the tired lib or outdated subject matter. It’s true that it doesn’t have a wellknown song to hook on (although there are some terrific numbers in the show) but when presented in this format and with this amount of slickness, you can’t help but be impressed. Perhaps one of the reasons it is seldom performed is that appears to be more of a play with music than a full-blown musical. The demands on the actors in terms of range of emotion are far greater and I thought that the acting was very strong in this production. I mentioned the work of Director John Doyle in my overview and my compliment to your Director Tony Makepeace is that I could see similarities in this well conceived production.

 

John Doyle has directed successful runs of Moll Flanders, Sweeney Todd (UK and Broadway) and most recently Mack & Mabel with David Soul. I had the pleasure of working with John Doyle at a NODA Summer School a few years ago (shameless plug for the NODA Summer School).


The pace of the scene changes using fairly minimal set and snatches / reprises of songs was spot on. Various boxes and benches etc were simply moved at different angles by the cast to create new scenes and at times even the cast themselves were scenery. The action was a little claustrophobic and there was no hiding place for any cast member but this was a fairly experienced ensemble and each cast member appeared supremely confident and were able to overcame any initial nerves which there must undoubtedly have been.


I noted down that Melanie Edwards’ choreography had a kaleidoscope effect with the cast moving around in concentric figures. It is a show which requires stylised movement rather dance and I thought it worked well. I must also mention the Rainbow Room dance ‘Keepin’ It Hot’ with Kenny and Maggie, it was a joy to watch. The music was simplicity itself with Musical Director Carole Smith at the piano as the sole musician. With a small cast and a small venue it worked really well. As I mentioned, the show doesn’t have a famous song but I particularly liked ‘One Good Break’. 

In a show with stark scenery and emotive subject matter the Lighting becomes even more important. I thought Ed Pagett’s plot was very effective and drew the audience into the action. I liked the elevator effect in Garrett and Mellicks. The costumes were of the correct period and totally appropriate for the age of the individual characters, both bland for the workers and glam when necessary for the ladies. I thought
Kenny’s jacket was a little on the short side but that is just me being pedantic.This was a true ensemble production but I have written a few notes on the cast who all had challenging parts and most had several challenging, diverse parts;


Flora Meszaros – Sue Astbury – Sue is a genuine leading lady. When Sue takes to the stage, you can’t help but take notice. This was a nice part for Sue and gave her the chance to shine.

Harry Toukarian – Bryan Cardus – I have had the pleasure of seeing Bryan in many roles but this was a very different portrayal to his normal musical theatre role. This showed Bryan’s versatility playing a slightly flawed, vulnerable character

Charlotte – Lizzie Brignall – This is a lovely role for a lady who is prepared to let themselves go and I thought Lizzie was very strong. Lizzie played it somewhat laid back but her attempts to clinch Harry were very entertaining

Willy – Hamilton Faber – Hamilton was one of a few artists who covered more than one part and gave him the chance to show off his not inconsiderable skills with the clarinet

Mr Weiss – Andy Yeates – Its never easy ageing up for a role and being convincing but I thought Andy made a good fist of it. A nice, warm portrayal as Mr Weiss

Elsa – Franny Gustafson – Another impressive multi-character artist who also had the unenviable task of making those accents convincing – and they were!

Maggie – Deb McDowell / Kenny – Andy Clarke – Deb and Andy very much came to the fore during the ‘Keepin’ it Hot’ dance section at the Rainbow Room. A highlight of the show without a doubt.

Mr Stanley – Chris Morris – Further evidence of strong versatile characters coming from one of the back-up cast.

Show Date: June 2008

Venue: Hampton Hill Playhouse

Rehearsal & Show Highlights

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