“Well it got so boring at the penthouse,” Flora laments, when asked by the snooty receptionist why she wants a position at one of the city’s largest department stores. We’ve all been there. From the boisterous “All I Need is One Good Break” to the downright aggressive interludes of “Hey Mister, Give Me a Job”, the ability of Kander and Ebb’s Depression era-set musical to quite literally tap (and pivot, and swirl) into the frustrations of today’s economic problems ensures Flora the Red Menace is an absolute thrill.
Director Randy Smartnick has unearthed this gem of a musical, originally created by the makers of Cabaret and Chicago, at a time when its themes of recession and unemployment resonate all too strongly. The result is an incredibly lively and spirited piece by All Star productions, as funny and vivacious as Flora herself. Torn between the responsibilities of her new-found job at the department store and carrying out the principles of a Communist party her new-found boyfriend Harry has introduced her to, Flora faces her dilemma head on armed with wit, charm and determination.
Smartnick explains in the show’s programme that he wanted to, “bring a little Broadway ‘cheese’” to fringe theatre and nothing encapsulates this better than the hilarious string of lit up love hearts being paraded around a love struck Flora by an all-singing, all-dancing chorus. Its exuberance and sense of humour shine through and yet the real success of this production is the biting satire behind the fun and frivolity. After all the giggles and laughter, moments such as Harry’s speech to his comrades, crying that poverty is, “no joke,” ultimately serve as a reminder that we are fools to be laughing considering current events.
Flora the Red Menace bristles and bubbles with such energy that one feels helplessly swept up on a wave almost paralleling that of the communist fervour within the production. And yet the real star of this piece is the Red Menace herself. Katy Baker as Flora is effortlessly charming, embodying all the qualities that make us warm to the character of Flora as quickly and strongly as we do.
While the economic outlook is dark and gloomy, Katy and her cast mates work to shine a little bit of brightness from a musical that is long overdue a West End welcome.