‘Flora The Red Menace’ at First Stage by Amanda Gunther

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It’s not every day of the week that you get a rousing musical in depression era New York with love, dancing, communism, and fashion design, but on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 1st Stage you can find all of these things and more in their production of Kander and Ebb’s Flora The Red Menace. Flora is an ebullient fashion designer who like many people living in New York City in 1935 is out of work and out of luck. So she sublets her studio to a group of ragtag pay-what-they-can artists who are in similar jobless situations and manages to invite an attractive young male into the collective. He has a stammer but Flora doesn’t mind that. He’s also a member of the local Communist Workers’ Party. And that is what sends Flora into a tailspin of love, ideology, and paychecks. This touching musical will brighten up your day, even if it is with a splash of red, and rings true to many of today’s current economic and social idealist struggles.

Dani Stoller (Flora) and Joshua Dick (Harry). Photo courtesy of 1st Stage.

Directed by Susan Devine with a live seven-piece orchestra and musical direction provided by Paul Nasto, this musical will sing its way into your hearts with songs of self-discovery, principles, and beliefs, tap-dancing a rhythm of reason into your minds as you explore the world of financially depraved artists in the 1930’s. Set Designer Mark Krikstan works with Costume Designer Judy Wheilhan to create an atmosphere of bedraggled, distressed gloom. The windows of the tenant studio are grimy and smudged, the bricks crumbling in the structural walls; enhancing the illusion of hard times. Wheilhan keeps everyone looking their best despite the toll of their weary downtrodden day to day lives.

We see some fine fancy footwork compliments of Choreographer Stefan Sittig. Many of the group numbers, such as “Unafraid” and “The Flame” feature circular marching or moving patterns that cause the stage to be filled with more members of the ensemble then there actually are. This is a clever trick to allow for the production to feel fuller. Sittig does a fantastic job of framing Flora in several of the numbers, especially in “The Kid Herself” where the men dance and converge around Flora to create a human flower of sorts with the men as the petals and Flora as the center.

'Graduation Day': Dani Stoller (Flora) (center), surrounded by the ensemble. Front row, from left: Sam Edgerly, Sherry Berg, and Kelsey Meiklejohn. Middle Row: Stephen Hock, Davis Hasty, Dani Stoller, Mary Beth Luckenbaugh, and Mikey Cafarelli. Joshua Dick (rear). Photo courtesy of 1st Stage.

Sittig’s aesthetically pleasing work continues with Kenny (Sam Edgerly) and Maggie (Kelsy Meiklejohn) during “Keepin’ It Hot” where the couple gets to showcase a plethora of intricate tap dance moves partnered together for one hell of a number. Edgerly and Meiklejohn have potent chemistry as two dancers who are head over heels in love with one another and when they sing together in this number and in “One Good Break” they are pouring their heart into every word with flashy smiles on their faces and a fully active body.

There is a powerful sound coming from the ensemble during the first act. So powerful that it often drowns out Flora (Dani Stoller) during most of the musical numbers where she sings with them. Stoller exudes a sassy attitude and vibrant energy that really speak volumes to the character’s nature. I just wish she could find more volume to her singing voice.

A Depression-era bread line: From left: Kelsey Meiklejohn, Sherry Berg, Mary Beth Luckenbaugh, Mikey Cafarelli, Joshua Dick, Sam Edgerly, Davis Hasty, and Stephen Hock. Photo courtesy of 1st Stage.

That aside, Stoller brings a wonderful flavor to the show especially when interacting with stammering Harry (Joshua Dick) who has a powerful and heartfelt voice. When Dick sings his bravado and passion radiate through like a bright red light, especially in “Sign Here” – where his idealistic beliefs are punched out with every note. Dick is  perfect foil to Stoller because his character is hesitant and shy while her character is loud and social. The pair play extremely well off one another, flirting awkwardly, sharing moments of heavy tension, and enjoying their time together on stage.

Wise old Mr. Weiss (Mikey Cafarelli) lends a well-pronounced muddled Polish-German accent to the mix and plays a strong supporting role to the scattered personality of Flora. Cafarelli really shines in “You Are You” with his very logical approach to who people really are inside. His words of wisdom feel heartfelt and do not come off as preachy. And of course there is fiery Charlotte (Sherry Berg) the character we all love to hate. She’s cutting in on Flora’s man, she’s the leader of the communist party, she’s mostly just a bitch and Berg owns this role with a fierce command. When she belts “The Flame” her attitude is second to none and she uses her body as a tool to further express her dedication to the cause.

So to enjoy this Kander and Ebb classic! We won’t make you sign on the dotted line, or pledge your allegiance to milk and cookies for kids and freedom for man, we just ask that you buy tickets and come down to 1st Stage for this awesome production.

Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.

Flora The Red Menace plays through June 17, 2012, at 1st Stage in Tyson’s Corner – 1524 Spring Hill Road, in McLean, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (703) 854-1856, or purchase them online.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=

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Amanda Gunther is an actress, a writer, and loves the theatre. She graduated with her BFA in acting from the University of Maryland Baltimore County and spent two years studying abroad in Sydney, Australia at the University of New South Wales. Her time spent in Sydney taught her a lot about the performing arts, from Improv Comedy to performance art drama done completely in the dark. She loves theatre of all kinds, but loves musicals the best. When she’s not working, if she’s not at the theatre, you can usually find her reading a book, working on ideas for her own books, or just relaxing and taking in the sights and sounds of her Baltimore hometown. She loves to travel, exploring new venues for performing arts and other leisurely activities. Writing for the DCMetroTheaterArts as a Senior Writer gives her a chance to pursue her passion of the theatre and will broaden her horizons in the writer’s field.