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You are here: Home Theatre Reviews & Features 2009-10 Reviews Broadway Review: FINIAN'S RAINBOW – Melodic Musical Missing More Than a Pot of Gold
Tuesday, 10 November 2009 00:05

Broadway Review: FINIAN'S RAINBOW – Melodic Musical Missing More Than a Pot of Gold

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Kate Baldwin and Cheyenne Jackson in Finian's Rainbow
Kate Baldwin and Cheyenne Jackson in Finian's Rainbow
Photo: Joan Marcus

For the second time this season I again find myself asking “why?” Finian’s Rainbow is an ok production with a good cast and a lovely and melodic score. And yet I found myself bored. Unfortunately, even with some rewriting, this script has only the faintest hint of a story line and it certainly isn’t enough to make us care about the play or its characters.

My first memories of Finian’s Rainbow were from a summer stock production I saw when I was a kid. When I heard that City Center Encores! was doing the show last season I found myself wondering how they were going to handle the racially charged aspects of the show. The fact is, my memory of this show as being racially charged were probably just that, childhood memories. In reality the show’s approach to race relations is outdated and parochial.

Jim Norton (a Tony Award winner for Seafarer) plays Finian McLonergan and Kate Baldwin (The Full Monty) plays his daughter Sharon; they are on the run after Finian decides to “borrow” a pot of gold from a leprechaun named Og, played by Christopher Fitzgerald (Young Frankenstein). They come from Ireland to America to a place called Missitucky to find a plot of land near Ft. Knox. Finian is under the misguided expectation that if he buries his pot of gold it will grow and multiply, just like it does at Ft. Knox.

Christopher Fitzgerald as Og in Finian's Rainbow
Christopher Fitzgerald as Og in Finian's Rainbow
Photo: Joan Marcus

They stumble upon land owned by brother and sister Woody and Susan Mahoney. The show opens at a tax sale. The henchman for Senator Rawkins are determined to get them out of the way and take their land to help finish a hydro power plant. Unfortunately for him, Woody is a stubborn cuss and won’t give up the land. Woody is played with charm and swagger by Cheyenne Jackson (Xanadu). He handles the songs beautifully. His silent sister Susan is played by Alina Faye in her Broadway debut in what is really more of a dance role considering she is mute through most of the production and dances to communicate. Ms. Baldwin as Sharon is lacking a sparkle and doesn’t do much with the already dull role though she does have a beautiful voice. Mr. Norton as her father is fine in the role, but the role being what the role is, well I’ve said enough. Chuck Cooper (The Life) turns in a fine performance as the racist Senator Bill Rawkins who is turned black by a wish made too close to the crock of gold. As Og the leprechaun in search of his lost crock of gold , Christopher Fitzgerald is sprightly and energetic.

From the start of the overture the music sounded muffled. The orchestra sounded like it was in another room somewhere a few flights up playing under a blanket. The unit set consisted of a backdrop, a couple of walls with rounded tops shaped to look like hills that had Astroturf on them. Stage left were trees that looked like two lines of telephone poles. The set was flat and bland. When any of the magical moments happened in the show, the tree under which was hidden the crock of gold would light up like a pinball machine. The costumes were not particularly noteworthy. Most of the production looked like a stock production.

While it was a delight to hear the score by Burton Lane with lyrics by the incomparable Yip Harburg, the songs seem to just meander along cobbled together by a script by Harburg and Fred Saidy. It seems the book is there for the sole purpose of getting to the next song. With one exception there never seemed to be a bring the house down, show-stopper of a number. “That Great ‘Come-and-Get-It’ Day” which ends the first act and sings about the glory of credit and mass consumerism is ok but doesn’t reach the unfettered joy it should. I did, however, like the confetti of credit applications that falls from the fly space at the end of the number. Terri White as Dottie, one of the sharecroppers has the one number that stops the show , “Necessity.”

Finian’s Rainbow is directed by Warren Carlyle (A Tale of Two Cities). The tempo of the show is so even that you could match it up against a metronome. The show just doesn’t build up to anything spectacular and I’m not sure that is entirely Mr. Carlyle’s fault. Finian’s Rainbow was probably considered somewhat daring when it premiered in 1947. Without overstating the obvious, much has changed in 50+ years. The first production I saw of Finian’s Rainbow did what the original Broadway production did. When it came time for the Senator’s dermatological transition, instead of switching the white actor for a black actor, they simply had the white actor put on blackface.

Jim Norton and Kate Baldwin in Finian's Rainbow
Jim Norton and Kate Baldwin in Finian's Rainbow
Photo: Joan Marcus

I’ll give it this, the show certainly manages to be ironic. Between singing about the glory of credit in the current economy and extolling the evil of racial prejudice sung by a principle cast that is completely white, the show does tend to leave one agog at the contradictions.

I’m a true lover of musical theatre and I’m grateful for the work that City Center Encores! does. However, this production just didn’t get to where it needed to go and I’m not sure it has it in it.

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Read full production credits at the Internet Broadway Database

Review Roundup:

Charles Isherwood for The New York Times – “The show’s improbable allure is recaptured with disarming sprightliness in this polished staging, directed and choreographed by Warren Carlyle and featuring the ever-delightful Jim Norton (a Tony winner for “The Seafarer”), perfectly cast as the enterprising Finian; Kate Baldwin as his beloved daughter, Sharon; and Cheyenne Jackson (“Xanadu”) as Woody, the local boy she falls in love with under the spell of “Old Devil Moon.”

Robert Feldberg for The Bergen Record – “Over the years, the proportion of dialogue to song in musicals has gotten less and less, and now it's not uncommon to have a show that's entirely sung…Would that were the case with "Finian's Rainbow." But that's not how they did things in 1947, when it debuted.”

Elisabeth Vincentelli for The NY Post – “Thankfully, the show overflows with terrific songs, propelled by Harburg's wit ("Why should I vanquish, relinquish, resish/When I simply relish this hellish condish") and Burton Lane's timeless sense of melody. When the lovely "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?" isn't the best tune, you know a score's scrumptious. “

Elysa Gardner for USA Today – “Under Warren Carlyle's gently buoyant direction, Rainbow's eclectic characters – among them a racist Southern senator, a mischievous Irishman and a leprechaun – come to life naturally and gracefully, winking at stereotypes while transcending them.”

 

Last modified on Saturday, 15 May 2010 14:42