Finian's Rainbow -- Theater Review
The longtime rap on this 1947 work is that the book, co-written by Harburg and Fred Saidy, was too problematic for modern times. But seeing the show again, in this version artfully adapted by Arthur Perlman, proves not only that the complaint is unjustified but that the racial and economic issues it touches upon are more relevant than ever.
Alternating between antic silliness and pointed social commentary, the story revolves around the arrival in the Southern state of "Missitucky" of the Irish Finian (Jim Norton) and his lovely lass of a daughter, Sharon (Kate Baldwin). Having stolen a pot of gold, Finian is determined to bury it somewhere near Fort Knox in the belief that this will cause it to grow.
The pair are chased by the gold's owner, a leprechaun named Og (Christopher Fitzgerald), who soon raises havoc in the racially divided community through such antics as turning a bigoted and corrupt white senator (David Schramm) black. Meanwhile, Sharon falls in love with the handsome Woody (Cheyenne Jackson), even while trying to avoid being charged as a sorceress.
Harburg's liberal sentiments are well-reflected in his lyrics to such songs as "Necessity" (delivered in showstopping fashion by Terri White) and "When the Idle Poor Become the Idle Rich." Needless to say, such lines of dialogue from the senator as "My whole family's been havin' trouble with immigrants ever since we came to this country" and, referring to the Constitution, "I haven't got time to read it! I'm too busy defendin' it!" garner knowing laughs.
But whatever one thinks of the story, there's simply no disputing that this is one of the greatest musical comedy scores ever written. Here's but a partial listing of the classic numbers: "Old Devil Moon," "Look to the Rainbow," "If This Isn't Love," "When I'm Not Near the Girl I Love" and, of course, "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?"
The production, wonderfully directed and choreographed by Warren Carlyle in an expansion of the concert version presented last season at Encores!, does full justice to the material. Although the scenery and costumes are little more than serviceable, the performances couldn't be bettered. Norton is an impish delight as Finian, as is Fitzgerald as the lovestruck leprechaun; Baldwin is gorgeous in looks and voice as Sharon; Jackson, stealing hearts with his crooning of "Old Devil Moon," is the embodiment of a Broadway leading man; and Chuck Cooper and David Schramm are terrific in their respective turns as the white and black version of the senator (the role was played -- in now politically incorrect fashion -- by a single performer in blackface in the original production).
Also making terrific contributions are former ABT ballerina Alina Faye as the mute Susan, who expresses herself entirely through dance, and well-known blues musician Guy Davis as the harmonica-playing Sunny.
Venue: St. James Theatre, New York (Runs indefinitely)
Cast: Jim Norton, Kate Baldwin, Cheyenne Jackson, Christopher Fitzgerald, Chuck Cooper, Guy Davis, Alina Faye, Brian Reddy, David Schramm, Terri White, William Youmans
Music: Burton Lane
Lyrics: Yip Harburg
Book: Yip Harburg, Fred Saidy
Director-choreographer: Warren Carlyle
Scenic designer: John Lee Beatty
Costume designer: Toni-Leslie James
Lighting designer: Ken Billington
Sound designer: Scott Lehrer.
Presented by David Richenthal, Jack Viertel, Alan D. Marks, Michael Speyer, Bernard Abrams, David M. Milch, Stephen Moore, Debbie Bisno/Myla Lerner and Jujamcyn Theaters in association with Melly Garcia, Jamie DeRoy, Jon Bierman, Richard Driehuas, Kevin Spirtas, Jay Binder and StageVentures 2000 Limited Partnership