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