Thursday, October 29, 2009

Finian's Rainbow

Last season, no one expected that the lauded City Center Encores! production of "Finian's Rainbow" would have the potential to transfer to Broadway. This unconventional 1947 musical has a complicated plot involving poor sharecroppers facing eviction, a quirky Irishman and his brash daughter looking to strike it rich, a leprechaun searching for his gold and a racist white senator who is magically turned into a black man.

But even if the musical is dated, dusty and politically incorrect, director-choreographer Warren Carlyle's vibrant revival is too romantic, funny, melodious, and well-cast to ignore. And unlike most Broadway transfers of Encores! shows, it has been physically altered to look like a full Broadway production and not a semi-staged concert. John Lee Beatty's simple set design is a gorgeous mix of green and yellow shades. Luckily, Ken Billington's spectacular lighting effect of framing the stage with a rainbow is carried over.

Its once edgy elements of political satire maintain some relevance here and there, especially when satirizing the fad of buying merchandise on credit. Yet the heart and soul of "Finian's Rainbow" still lies in Burt Lane and Yip Harburg's glorious score. Best of all, 24 musicians are on hand to play the original orchestrations of "How Are Things in Glocca Morra," "Old Devil Moon" and "Look to the Rainbow."

Jim Norton is sprightly and sneaky as Finian McLonergan, mixing the character's childlike excitement and willingness to dream with hints ofmelancholy. It's also nice to have an authentic Irishman playing the role.

As Sharon, Kate Baldwin proves herself to be a genuine leading lady. In addition to her shining soprano voice, she brings real conviction and a tough sense of character. Baldwin also displays perfect romantic chemistry with Cheyenne Jackson, who continues to be Broadway's most dependable matinee idol, as the grinning, romantic farmer Woody.

Christopher Fitzgerald is perfectly cast as the comic leprechaun Og,who is dismayed to discover that he is turning mortal. Other standouts include Terri White, who croons the showstopper "Necessity," Chuck Cooper, who makes leaps from haughtiness to crisis to gradual ease as the transformed Senator Bill Rawkins, and ballerina Alina Faye as the mute but twirling Susan.

I can't help but think that had the show's book been substantially revised instead of slightly edited, much of its magic and allure would have been lost in translation. So in spite of all its creakiness and political baggage, it's truly wonderful to have "Finian's Rainbow" back on Broadway. It feels rather like finding a "terrifish, magnifish, delish" crock of gold in the middle of Times Square.

St. James Theater, 246 W. 44th St., 212-239-6200, Open run.


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