Eden Espinosa and Manoel Felciano
in Flora, the Red Menace
(© Michael Lamont)
Eden Espinosa and Manoel Felciano
in Flora, the Red Menace
(© Michael Lamont)
If the political right wing really wants to get people to avoid joining the Communist Party, they should be forced to sit through the dull 1965 John Kander-Fred Ebb musical Flora the Red Menace, now being given a remarkably bland production at L.A.'s Reprise. Indeed, the show would likely have been long forgotten had it not been for Liza Minnelli's Tony Award-winning performance in the title role. Unfortunately, while current lead Eden Espinosa is a kind presence, she's not even close to Liza -- then or now.

Set during the Great Depression, the show points its satirical fingers at the fat cats who exploit the workers and the American Communist Party, who uses rhetoric to turn the same masses into puppets. Caught in the middle are stuttering activist Harry (Manoel Felciano) and flibbertigibbet Flora (Espinosa), an individualistic and fun-loving fashion artist who loves humanity and wants to trust in Harry's Red-colored ideals so much that he convinces her into signing onto the Communist Party.

The revised book by David Thompson (from the original by George Abbott) deals with some hefty issues, but in very insubstantial ways. Thompson uses cheap sitcom techniques like swapping identical briefcases and mistaken identities. When a Bolshevik seductress winds up half-naked under the bed with Flora and Harry above, it's suddenly as if we're watching an episode of Three's Company. Several of Thompson's jokes not only fall flat, but since the show takes place in the mid-1930s, it seems anachronistic to assume that FBI director J. Edgar Hoover's cross-dressing was common knowledge back then.

Espinosa captures an airy charm as her Flora endearingly rambles. Unfortunately, she lacks the spark to enliven the mostly underwhelming songs -- the show's best known number is "A Quiet Thing" -- and doesn't have the vibrato that "Sing Happy" demands to end the show with a bang. Felciano had a few high note issues in his first duet with Espinosa, "It's Not Every Day Of The Week," but he has winning moments in the tongue-twisting "Sign Here" and rousing number "The Joke."

Not surprisingly, Tony Award nominee Megan Lawrence steals the show as the Communist vamp Charlotte. With a Louise Brooks bowl cut and a haughty personality, Lawrence's spoil-sport to the main lovers is a perfect femme fatale. Unfortunately, the stage turns into a gaping black hole when she departs. Someone should have thanked the rest of the cast, sent them home, and let Lawrence do her thing for 150 minutes instead of a mere 20. That would have been something to sing happy about!