Flora Leo will lead one of Iris Theatre’s Platform Events, a monthly showcase night, championing early career artists, from a variety of disciplines.
Flora Leo is a musical theatre composer, lyricist, book writer and MD. Her original musicals include Show & Tell (All Star Entertainment NYC) and The Lightning Road (Iris Theatre). Her credits as a musical director include The Last Five Years (London Theatre, New Cross) and Free Solo (Drayton Arms Theatre – nominated for an Off West End award for Best Musical Director). Her work has been featured in Soho Theatre’s Search for a Twitter Composer competition and the Tristan Bates Theatres new writing showcase Prelude 2. In 2021, Leo’s song Our Fight Is Not Over (The Ballad of Lexa) won the Stiles + Drewe Best New Song: Voice, Vision & Potential Prize.
Tickets are on sale now via: at: https://iristheatre.com/whats-on/
You’re performing your own show at one of Iris Theatre’s Platform events, what can you tell us about the night?
Well, having had a preview of the cast in rehearsal, I’m pretty sure it’ll be an emotional rollercoaster! Style-wise, I’ve been influenced by an eclectic mix of genres, but I tend to consciously and subconsciously leave musical or lyrical breadcrumbs in my songs – so hopefully they’re all recognisable as mine.
Even as a teenager attempting to pen a hit pop song in the Wells Cathedral School practice rooms, I tended towards soaring string arrangements, Disney-esque choruses, and juicy key changes, which meant that musical theatre was always my natural home. That might be just a convoluted way of saying that I write a decent cheesy ballad, but whatever type of song I’m composing, I work a lot on instinct and always wear my heart on my sleeve. The audience will be getting some of that on the night – as well as a few surprises!
What were your first thoughts when you were approached to take part?
I was thrilled – it’s great to be working with Iris Theatre again. The premiere production of my WW2 musical The Lightning Road was part of their Workin’ Progress series in 2018, where we brought lightning storms and the Battle of the Bulge to the atmospheric Actors’ Church.
PLATFORM isn’t just a fantastic opportunity for my music to reach a wider audience, but a chance to showcase my songs as a body of work, rather than as a single stage musical, which allows me to see many of them in a completely new light. It’s also exactly 20 years since my first composition showcase at the Royal Academy of Music, so it feels like the perfect time to look back and reflect on how I’ve evolved as a composer/lyricist since then. Hindsight is 20/20 after all – or 20/22? You know what I mean!
What opportunities does a night like this give you?
I’ll be sharing some new arrangements of old songs, but I’m particularly excited to be able to premiere 7 brand new songs, 5 of which are from the project closest to my heart, Triangularity, which is my semi-autobiographical musical about a queer cult TV fan in her 30s. The idea was inspired by my love of TV shows with queer female characters, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the web series Carmilla, and by my life-changing trip to Las Vegas to attend the queer TV convention Clexacon.
I had an epiphany – I kept hearing Drew Barrymore in Never Been Kissed in my head saying “to write well, you have to write what you know” and I realised that my passion and enthusiasm for these series and my experience as a queer kid growing up without representation or the internet in the 90s, could be the starting point for a joyful and heart-warming musical – one that I hope will make a small difference by highlighting the fight for more positive LGBTQ+ representation.
You’ll be joined by some special guest stars, but what are you looking forward to about performing with them?
As well as a ridiculously talented 6-piece band, I have an incredible all-female cast of performers who individually are powerhouses, but together are something pretty special. I’m continually inspired and energized by the actors I work with, especially when developing new material, and these four have motivated me to keep going and keep creating during the more difficult moments of the last few years.
One person I simply couldn’t do this without is Cecily Redman – she’s magnetic on stage and has a voice that I can only describe as mellifluous (she’ll love that), with the acting chops to match. We met when I was the MD for Jack Godfrey’s Free Solo, and have worked together ever since. Oh, and she’s pretty good with a puppet too.
After powering through some Jason Robert Brown at an audition together, I knew right away that I had to work with Betsy Lee-Miller. She shone as Emmeline Quinn in The Lightning Road and brings a ray of sunshine to any rehearsal room – not to mention an absolute belter of a voice.
Alice Merivale is a real gem – she can do it all – a versatile and nuanced actor and equally effortless vocalist, she’s a dab hand with Shakespeare and most recently worked on Dante’s in Furlough at the Vaults. I don’t think she knows just how good she really is, but I’m happy to keep reminding her!
And last but not least, the awesome talent that is Roshani Abbey, who exploded onto the West End last year in & Juliet. Her energy is infectious, and working with her on Triangularity has been an absolute joy. What’s that? She’s got a Masters in Mathematics as well? Now that’s just showing off.
I’ll be doing my thing as MD at the piano, and I think it’s going to feel pretty euphoric to be with this group of people performing these songs that mean so much to me. I can’t wait.
Can we expect to hear some of your award-winning songs on the night?
Yes! We will be performing Our Fight is Not Over (The Ballad of Lexa), which won the Voice, Vision & Potential Prize at the Stiles + Drewe Best New Song Finals 2021.
It’s the 11 o’clock number from Triangularity, a rousing and uplifting anthem for the queer community about the ’Bury Your Gays’ trope and its damaging effects. The song lists many of the queer female TV characters who have been killed off before their time, and the hero of the song is Lexa, the fearless warrior commander from The 100, whose untimely death was the catalyst that inspired fans and creators around the world to come together and demand more positive depictions of LGBTQ+ lives and relationships on screen. As the saying goes; ‘If you can see it, you can be it’ so I’m doing my bit to make sure the next generation has the visibility they deserve, and hopefully this trope will become a thing of the past.
What would you say to anyone thinking of booking to come and see your Platform event?
We’ve packed a lot in – you’ll absolutely get your money’s worth! The band and singers alone are worth the price of admission. And whatever you enjoy, be it period drama, teen angst, self-deprecating comedy, tear-jerking ballads, foot-tapping folk numbers, rousing Act 1 finales, or nerdy lesbian love songs – I guarantee there’ll be something for everyone.