Flora, The Red Menace, the deliciously campy musical performed in Hall Auditorium May 5 through 8, was impeded by one small detail: The musical itself. College senior Holland Hamilton (Flora) and College junior Andrew Gombas (Harry, Flora’s love interest) displayed earnest, endearing personas and strong voices, imbuing their roles with a gravitas that was lacking in the original text. Gombas and Hamilton were so impressive that they were able to parlay a small gaffe — Flora dropping her purse in front of Harry after a fight, and Harry picking the purse up — into one of the show’s most touching moments, with the two exchanging regretful gazes over their failed relationship. Conservatory senior Cree Carrico also delivered a rollicking performance as a Communist leader by day and predatory seductress by night.
An equally noteworthy ensemble also provided Flora with moments of musical theater greatness, performing ample bits of physical comedy and effortlessly choreographed dance numbers with a vivacity that the music itself lacked. Indeed, each member of the supporting cast — a troupe of bohemian artists, writers and dancers with whom Flora lives — brought spunk and individual talent to their roles without upstaging the romantic duo.
It is too bad, then, that such gifted performers were given Flora to work with. Several musical numbers felt unnecessary –– “You Are You,” a bland self-realization anthem sung by the already-self-assured Flora, particularly comes to mind –– and the task of making the music work with an air-thin plot felt labored and unwieldy. While the setting of the show — New York City during the Great Depression — certainly lends itself to plenty of folksy, go-getter fodder, the opening number, in which a small army of unemployed New Yorkers belt “Mister, please give me a job,” capitalized on these themes through the most obvious means possible.
Ultimately, the audience came to care about Harry and Flora because of the lead actors’ performances, not because of how their characters were written. After a three-hour performance, we left the theater droopy of eye but light of heart, thanks to the quality of singing and acting exhibited by the entire sparkling cast.