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Finian’s Rainbow

Social commentary was never like this! Delightful revival of the Burton Lane/E.Y. Harburg musical with Melissa Errico and Ryan Silverman.

Ryan Silverman and Melissa Errico in a scene from “Finian’s Rainbow” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Ryan Silverman and Melissa Errico in a scene from “Finian’s Rainbow” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Some Broadway musical date quickly and show their age, becoming period pieces or relics of another age. Others age well like vintage wine. The Irish Repertory Theatre revival of Finian’s Rainbow proves that it gets better with age. This social comment story wedded to Irish blarney remains a delightful musical comedy with a  message, one about the evils of racism, a very timely topic which never seems to get old. Led by the charming Melissa Errico and the stalwart Ryan Silverman, Charlotte Moore’s production with a cast of 13 is a marvel of economy, though you never feel that it is a small offering. The Burton Lane/E.Y. Harburg score made up of all winners has many familiar songs such “Old Devil Moon” and “Look to the Rainbow.”

Harburg who was a confirmed liberal was attracted to Broadway musical properties in which he could inject some social comment. Finian’s Rainbow for which he conceived, wrote the lyrics, and co-wrote the book with Fred Saidy (Bloomer Girl, Jamaica) may be his most overtly political and the most fun. It plays with the concepts of racial inequality, and the haves and the have nots, now referred to as income inequality.

In April 1947, a far off time, Irish immigrant Finian McLonergan has come to Rainbow Valley, near Fort Knox, in the state of Missitucky to bury a crock of gold which he as stolen from the leprechaun Og back in Glocca Morra. He is under the impression that if he buries it in the soil near where the U.S. keeps its gold, it will increase in value and make him rich just like American millionaires. With him is his daughter Sharon who dreams of going back to Glocca Morra. Woody Mahoney, a labor union leader, arrives to save the sharecroppers from having their land auctioned off for not being able to pay their taxes, but it is Finian who saves the day.

Woody and Sharon fall in love in the moonlight while the leprechaun Og who is become mortal and growing taller without his crock of gold arrives and also falls in love with her – as well as other girls. When bigoted Senator Rawlins discovers that there is gold on the land in Rainbow Valley, he orders Finian to leave as an undesirable helping the poor black sharecroppers. Not know that she is standing near where Finian buried the gold, Sharon declares “I wish you were black” transforming him in a clever sleight of hand and he is chased off the property by the equally bigoted Sheriff. After many complications, all ends happily proving that happiness is not found in money but in hope and dreams.

The Cast of “Finian’s Rainbow” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

The Cast of “Finian’s Rainbow” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Moore’s adaptation successfully uses the small, recently renovated stage of the Irish Repertory Theatre so that even with 13 actors the performance area always looks populated with the people of Rainbow Valley. James Morgan’s clever unit set is redolent of the South with its huge live oak draped above the stage. Mary Jo Dondlinger’s lighting is redolent of the warm southern sun as well as the cool evening moonlight. The four piece orchestra sits neatly tucked in the back of the stage without distracting from the performance.

As a feisty Sharon, Errico, who played the same role in the 2004 Irish Rep. revival, is utterly charming, though a bit more wry than she was previously, but doesn’t look a day older. She puts her lush soprano to splendid use in “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?,” “Look to the Rainbow,” and “When the Idle Poor Become the Idle Rich.” She makes beautiful music with baritone Silverman, one of the musical theater’s fastest rising men, in “Old Devil Moon,” and “If This Isn’t Love.” Lyrica Woodruff is lovely performing Barry McNabb’s choreography as Woody’s sister, Susan the Silent, who dances (on toe) her thoughts rather than talks. Mark Evans is magnetic as the randy leprechaun who can’t stop growing and loves which ever girl he is with. He and Errico remind us how clever Harburg’s lyrics are with their duet of “Something Sort of Grandish,” as well as in his serenade to Susan the Silent, “When I’m Not Near the Girl I Love.”

William Bellamy, Ramone Owens and Kyle Taylor Parker as well as Dewey Caddell, the transformed Senator Rawlins, do a fine job with the barbershop quartet, “The Begat,” while contralto Angela Grovey leads a rousing “Necessity.” As Finian, Ken Jennings, who has no songs of his own, is a wonderful combination of Irish Blarney and wily American know-how. Caddell makes Senator Rawlins as mean as he is supposed to be. The entire ensemble under the musical direction of John Bell gives a glorious account of themselves in such numbers as “This Time of the Year,” “We’re Having a Party,” and “That Great Come-and-Get-It Day.”

If you have seen Finian’s Rainbow before, this vest pocket rendition is like meeting an old friend. If you have never seen it before, Charlotte Moore’s revival is a great place to meet this delightful and ever-timely musical with a message. Do we need it now!

Finian’s Rainbow (extended through January 29, 2017)

Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-727-2737 or visit http://www.irishrep.org

Running time: two hours including one intermission

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief
About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (358 Articles)
Victor Gluck was a drama critic and arts journalist with Back Stage from 1980 – 2006. He started reviewing for TheaterScene.net in 2006, where he was also Associate Editor from 2011-2013, and has been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. He is a voting member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Dramatists Guild of America. His plays have been performed at the Quaigh Theatre, Ryan Repertory Company, St. Clements Church, Nuyorican Poets Café and The Gene Frankel Playwrights/Directors Lab.

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