50 year ago on 11 May 1965 Flora the Red Menace opened on Broadway. It was the first John Kander and Fred Ebb collaboration to be produced and the Broadway debut of a nineteen year old Liza Minnelli. However, she had already appeared in London in 1964 when she starred with her mother at the London Palladium where she was instantly recognised as a budding star.
Although not a hit – Flora the Red Menace ran for only 87 performances- it earned Minnelli a Tony (at that time the youngest person to get the award) and gave Kander and Ebb the foot in the door of future success.
Of course, publicity wise much had been made of Liza’s heredity and for many years she would be known as Judy Garland’s daughter. Luckily her talent eventually set her free of that label.
Liza had trained at New York’s High School of Performing Arts and performed in stock in Cape Cod. She was developing into a good dancer and made her first New York appearance in the leading role of the Off-Broadway revival of Best Foot Forward in 1963 and received a Theatre World newcomer’s award.
Kander and Ebb had been collaborating for three years by the time this show was produced. They had worked on a project (Golden Gate) with Harold Prince but it was not produced. But Prince had faith in them and produced Flora and straight away after offered them Cabaret, and as they say ‘the rest is history’. Interestingly, both Flora and Cabaret are political shows, the latter about the rise of the Nazi regime, the former, the feared rise of communism.
The connection of Minnelli and Kander and Ebb continued with special material and the song ‘Maybe this time’ which she recorded for an album and had interpolated into the film of Cabaret. There Emmy award TV special Liza with a Z perhaps shows her at the peak of her career.
Fred Ebb died in 2004 but a show they wrote prior to that, The Visit, is now making its Broadway debut starring their other favoured lady, Chita Rivera.
RSB Illustrations from the Trust’s archive