Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Rising Action Theatre: Flora the Red Menace (4 reviews)

Rising Action Theatre Company opened its production of Flora the Red Menace on October 16, 2009.
The story of youthful idealism and naivete takes place in 1933's Depression where everyone is struggling to survive and get work. The ambitious and optimistic Flora Mezaros, freshly graduaed from school, gets a job as a fashion illustrator but gets a rude awakening when she joins the Communist Party out of idealism and love.
Kevin Coughlin directed a cast that included Christina Groom, Chris Costa, Tom Falborn, Kathy Ryan Forbes, Lissen Ellington, Sabrina Gore, Scott Hindly, and Rick Pena.

J.W. Arnold slips in a final review of the show for
Minutes into the performance, I realized this would not be the usual Rising Action production. The same old community theater washouts who seem to turn up in every production were nowhere to be found. The stage was filled with an energetic cast of trained performers who could sing, dance and, ironically, act.
A diminutive, but dynamic Christina Groom owned the stage, channeling not Liza Minelli, but rather giving a glimpse of how Sutton Foster might attack the role of the idealistic, irrepressible young illustrator who finds herself in the middle of a Communist Party cell in Depression-era New York City.
A remarkably balanced cast of supporting actors and actresses supported Groom as they dodged into and out of a number of roles...
Scott Hindley (Kenny) particularly shined as an aspiring dancer, delivering a very clean tap performance, accompanied by (Lissen Ellington). Kitt Marsh provides plenty of comic relief as Flora’s cartoonish foil, Charlotte, and Rick Pena successfully advances the story as the narrator, among his many other roles.
Director Kevin Coughlin stretched Rising Action’s tight resources in a number of ways that worked and others that simply didn’t: the recorded music tracks on an electronic piano sound tinny and cheap and ultimately prevent the kind of spontaneous vocal performances that could be achieved with a conductor and live musicians (or even a live pianist)...
...young leading man Chris Costa (Harry) delivers an adequate performance, but never quite nails the role of the stuttering, idealistic young Communist or achieves any romantic chemistry with Groom.
Despite a few missteps, Rising Action’s Flora the Red Menace is their best production to date...
Matthew David Glass reviewed for the Florida Blade:
Do not expect the razzle dazzling bells and whistles of Kander and Ebb’s later successes “Cabaret” or “Chicago” (although a sharp ear will hear hints and strains of these). Do expect, however, to see a cleanly-directed, topical and enjoyable evening of musical theatre history.
Director/choreographer Kevin Coughlin creates a lively production... His seemingly slight-handed direction and choreography allow the piece to flow effortlessly and cleanly from scene to scene...
Flora, authentically played by Christina Groom, succeeds in catching her character’s charisma and peculiarities, performing humbly without stealing the show.
...Chris Costa’s portrayal stammering Armenian Communist seems rigid and physically awkward, and doesn’t match Flora’s charismatic portrayal. But Costa succeeds in eliciting sympathy from the audience...
The ensemble is uneven, although each ensemble member owns several fine moments. Lissen Ellington and Scott Hindley open the second act with “Keeping it Hot,” a delightfully uplifting tap number reminiscent of Fred and Ginger. Also, Kitt Marsh, playing Charlotte ... gives a highlight performance with her flag-raising communistic plea “The Flame” in the first act...
...despite its glitches (and a pre-recorded soundtrack), is a great chance to hear a historic production of Kander and Ebb musical theater. The Rising Action production is worth seeing.
The Sun-Sentinel forgoes sending out a proper theatre critic, sending instead Rod Stafford Hagwood to inflict what's left of the Sentinel readership with what he passes off as a review. Adding insult to injury, it's posted in the Fashion section. Which might not be so terrible, if he even mentioned the costumes.
Flora The Red Menace starts out on the road to a mirror-darkly John Kander/Fred Ebb musical.
Um, this actually is a Kander/Ebb musical, Rod. It doesn't have to mirror anything.
Told as if it were a President Roosevelt WPA presentation of the Federal Theatre Project, Flora starts out promising enough as Christina Groom gushes endearingly - in a fine voice that never quite finds the pocket - as Flora Meszaros, a fashion illustrator desperate for a job during the Depression.
But somewhere in the second act all the vibrancy flitters away and Groom runs out of pluck as Flora tries to decide what to sacrifice for her happiness, love or ideals. By the time she delivers a frazzled, fizzy anthem to close the show, it all stops ringing true; the sum of all the parts just don't add up to much of anything with any real bite.
Even now, we are never fully transported anywhere...although the Rising Action ride is pleasant enough.
Unlike Rod's "review."

Not only is it poorly written, it's written in something like five different fonts. No, for a real review, scroll down and read Christine's. And then write a love letter to the morons managing the Sun-Sentinel.

Christine Dolen reviewed for the Miami Herald:
...though the result has its own flaws, the production is one of the company's better efforts. Rising Action's blend of gay theater, drama and musicals has given it a diverse audience, and the segment that gravitates toward musicals will doubtless enjoy this rare production of Flora.
Rising Action found a convincing Flora in Christina Groom, a petite redhead with a good (though not great) voice and oodles of charisma. That Flora was a fine fit for Minnelli, who would become a kind of muse for Kander and Ebb, is clear. But Groom proves that her older Flora, one with lots of moxie and a vulnerable heart, works too.
The cast surrounding Groom delivers some decent singing and capably executes Coughlin's sometimes-inventive choreography. No one is a vocal standout, but cringe-inducing moments (as when several performers go flat, individually and together) don't happen often.
...the greatest pleasures in Flora the Red Menace flow from hearing such early Kander-Ebb songs as Quiet Thing and Sing Happy, from Groom's sparkplug of a performance, and simply from the chance to see a rarely done musical live again.
Flora the Red Menace plays at the Rising Action Theatre Company through November 22, 2009

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