Oberlin Blogs

Flora the Red Menace

April 18, 2011

Zoe McLaughlin ’11

This semester, I took my first (and last) modular course. This means that the class lasted for only half the semester. Instead of a midterm, we had a final, and now the class is over. I did this partially because the class looked interesting and partially because I knew that as the semester drew on I would get busier. You see, I knew that rehearsals for Flora the Red Menace were going to start up right before Spring Break. That's right. Once again I've managed to work my way into a pit orchestra.

I've talked before about my love of pit orchestras, and so it comes as no surprise that I'm very excited about this one. This production, however, is particularly exciting. Flora the Red Menace was the first musical written by John Kander ('51) and Fred Ebb, the same people who went on to write Cabaret and Chicago. It's about a girl who graduates from school and moves to New York City. She falls in with some Bohemian artist types, falls in love, gets mixed up in Communism, and has other adventures. It was originally written for a full orchestra, but in 1987 was pared down for a smaller cast accompanied by just a piano. For this production, the orchestration is once again being rearranged, this time for a very small orchestra. We have a piano, a drum set, a bass, and a violin. There are also a couple cast members who play banjo, accordion, and clarinet who join us for some of the songs.

Of course, the fact that I'm the only violinist also means that I'm very exposed and therefore have to practice a lot. I think the last time I practiced this much was when I was in tenth grade, much worse at violin, and playing for Beauty and the Beast.

Generally, when I'm playing in a pit, I use Post-Its to mark the sections of music that I really need to practice. I've found that this is a good method; there's a lot of music to learn, but most of it is pretty easy, and the hard parts tend to get lost in amongst the easy parts. This time, though, we got the music in small increments, so I never actually used the Post-Its. Instead, I just keep writing notes to myself in the margins, mainly about bowings that I have to work out. It strikes me that I'm probably growing up if I worry about bowings even when I'm the only person playing the part.

Thus far, the orchestra hasn't rehearsed with the cast yet. However, performance week is drawing near (we're performing the first week of May, as well as during Commencement Week), so that is soon going to change. From now on, we're going to be rehearsing in Hall Auditorium (named after Charles Martin Hall, who deserves an entry of his own). I haven't seen the set-up yet, but I'm told that I'm going to be onstage and that I'm going to be wearing a costume. That's going to be a new experience.

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