Flora the Red Menace is a 1965 musical by Kander and Ebb starring Liza Minnelli in the title role. Minnelli won a Tony Award for her work on the show, setting a record for the time for the youngest person ever to win the award. This was the first collaboration between Kander and Ebb, who later produced Broadway and Hollywood hits such Cabaret and Chicago.
The story is told as though in a presentation by the Federal Theatre Project, part of the WPA established by President Roosevelt. A company of actors play all the roles, with obvious props and scenery, not trying to hide the 'amateur' look and feel of the show. The plot follows headstrong wannabe fashion designer Flora Mezaros, one member of an artists' co-operative of bohemian types - dancers, musicians, designers - struggling to find work during the Depression. Hoping to find a job which pays at least $15 a week, she is hired by the head of a large department store at $30.
She falls in love with Harry Toukarian, another struggling designer, who attempts to convert Flora to his Communist ideals. Even though it compromises her job in an organisation which does not recognise the new unions she seeks to hold down both job and relationship. Throw in a predatory Communist matriarch who wants Harry for herself, a secretary with designs on her boss, and a jazz dancing duo with their sights on greater things, and it has all the right ingredients for a genuinely original and exciting show.
In the end, however, she finds herself torn between the vastly different ideals, and has to sacrifice one or the other for true happiness.
Although not full of well-known or show-stopping numbers, the score does present a valuable insight into the later work of Kander and Ebb. Like Cabaret and Chicago, it features a headstrong heroine with passion and idealism, has a strong dose of political content, and isn't afraid to shun the pink fluffy image of most Broadway musicals in order to tell its story.
Songs from the show include:
Rarely seen and not widely known, Flora is a hidden gem of a musical.
Most recent/successful professional production in the UK was at Dundee Repertory Theatre, Scotland, autumn 2003.