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Finian’s Rainbow – Broadway Musical Review

  

THE POT OF GOLD AT THE END OF THE RAINBOW

 

picture - Finian's Rainbow

 

Theater Review

by Harvey Perr

published November 8, 2009

 

Finian’s Rainbow

now playing on Broadway at the St. James Theater

open run

 

picture - Finian's RainbowIn the nifty postage-stamp Irish Repertory Theatre revival of Finian’s Rainbow a few seasons ago, the cast was having such fun with the songs that they spread joy and pandemonium throughout the tiny theater. It mattered very little that the book seemed as silly and as confused and as pixilated as it must have when it first opened in 1947, because, in Finian’s Rainbow, it isn’t the play: the score’s the thing. In its current Broadway revival, David Ives has tweaked the original book by Yip Harburg and Fred Saidy here and there without much consequence, but when the bigoted Southern senator (who turns black when one of three wishes gets blown; as I suggested, don’t ask!) says “Ah don’t read the Constitution, ah’m too busy defendin’ it,” no time seems to have passed at all between 1947 and now. That may be enough. Plot may not have been Harburg’s great strength, but his political wit was always on target. So forget the book and enjoy the dialogue and be glad that it provides the cement that keeps the show flowing from one great song to another.

 

A leprechaun becomes more and more a mortal (you know it because he gets too big for his green knickers). An old man comes all the way from Ireland to find a rainbow. His daughter finds romance with a strapping woodsman whose sister is mute and has to dance to tell everyone what’s on her mind. A southern bigot, as aforementioned, turns black and gets a lesson in tolerance. And when the African Americans – who make up the larger portion of the community in Rainbow Valley, Missitucky (yes, that’s right, it’s the whole damned South we’re talking about here!) – start shuffling, they know exactly what they are doing. It isn’t minstrelsy, but, then again, it isn’t exactly not minstrelsy. What is important is that every one of these characters gets a golden opportunity to sing and dance to songs that are among the loveliest and liveliest in the entire musical comedy canon. And, if cast perfectly – and it so happens that it has been – the songs not only get their due, they literally burst forth with springtime energy.

 

picture - Finian's RainbowJim Norton doesn’t have much of a voice and he doesn’t seem to have put too much of a spin on his characterization, but what he does do is miracle aplenty: he brings a wonderful self-effacing charm and good naturedness to the proceedings and clearly has a grand old time whenever he gets a chance to give voice to the bits and pieces of song old Finian gets to sing. This is a Finian you’ll fall in love with. And if this isn’t love, as Yip Harburg notes, I’m Carmen Miranda! His daughter Sharon is, in Kate Baldwin’s strong hands, as sparkling and shiny as we imagine Glocca Mora, where she comes from, must be; we don’t expect our ingenues to possess wit when a pretty voice will do, but there is an imp in Ms. Baldwin’s eyes and in her throat. Cheyenne Jackson, America’s own Hugh Jackman, is everything a leading man should be and more. When Jackson and Baldwin sing “Old Devil Moon,” you know exactly why “razzle-dazzle” is included in the lyrics.

 

Want more? There’s Christopher Fitzgerald’s leprechaun Og, growing out of his breeches and growing into our hearts with his richly comic befuddlement and with the vast generosity be lavishes upon what are arguably the top tunes of this infectious collection of top tunes, “Something Sort of Grandish” and “When I’m Not Near The Girl I Love (I Love The Girl I’m Near).” And then there’s Alina Faye as Susan, the dancing mute, who brings a limpid elegance to the simplest and most beautiful of the dances that director/choreographer Warren Carlyle has devised. And we haven’t even gotten to the show’s most formidable performances: Terri White’s shamelessly boisterous re-invention of “Necessity” and Chuck Cooper’s show-stopping interpretation of “The Begat” (aided immeasurably by The Three Gospeleers). Cooper is the Bill Rawkins whom Senator Rawkins is transformed into and just because Davis Shramm who plays the senator doesn’t have a song of his own is no reason to slight his slyly funny portrayal.picture - Finian's Rainbow

 

From where this reviewer sat, John Lee Beatty’s sets seemed a tad tacky, but given the glorious things that take place on them, hell, let’s be generous and say they might even be purposefully tacky. The evening, on the whole, is like a good bottle of fine Belgian beer. It’s the songs that are  champagne. And, boy, do they bubble and flow! With such a vintage supply of melody, songs of yearning and promise and of love explored and found and enjoyed and of social realism and social fantasy, the only surprise is that it has taken so long for a revival of “Finian’s Rainbow” to grace a Broadway stage.

 

harveyperr @ stageandcinema.com

 

 
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