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Flora, the Red Menace

The Great Depression is showing up musicals all over the place. With music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb and book by George Abbott, Flora first showed up on Broadway in 1965, featuring Liza Minnelli in the title role of a Hungarian fashion-designer emigré to New York. Here she’s played by Eden Espinosa, whose beautiful voice can’t quite compensate for a performance of impenetrable perkiness. Flora lives and leads a commune of the barely employed, joins the Communist Party, and then gets caught in a moral quagmire of a labor strike with her more ideologically rigid boyfriend, Harry (Manoel Felciano). (What a gutsy move, to treat Communists seriously on the 1965 Broadway stage.) Though this production’s reconfigured book by David Thompson, created for the 1987 Vineyard Theatre revival, accentuates the need for activism to grapple with an economic crisis, offset by the pitfalls of rigid dogma, it’s not until Act 2 that these nuances show up. And though it’s intriguing to hear musical echoes of Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret and Chicago, Flora contains only one good song, “Quiet Thing,” exquisitely interpreted by Espinosa. The rest of Philip Himberg’s staging — imagined as a bare-bones WPA theater production — hovers between being adequate and inadequate. The four-piece band (two pianos, percussion and string bass) is overwhelmed by the large space and this musical’s technical demands, and in terms of sheen, as one patron aptly remarked at intermission, “Something is lacking.” Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, Sundays, 2 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Starts: May 7. Continues through May 18, 2008

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