In today’s Wall Street Journal I review the Irish Repertory Theatre’s production of a newly revised version of Finian’s Rainbow. Here’s an excerpt.
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“Finian’s Rainbow” is one of Broadway’s most recalcitrant “problem” musicals. The original 1947 production ran for 725 performances and spawned two blue-chip standards, “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?” and “Old Devil Moon.” But none of the show’s three subsequent Broadway revivals, the most recent of which was a flawlessly cast 2009 production that closed after just three months, was commercially successful, and the 1968 film version, directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring none other than Fred Astaire, was a box-office disaster that succeeded only in killing off the old-fashioned studio musical as a genre. Given this dismal track record, it’s quite something to report that the Irish Repertory Theatre has now done the seemingly impossible: Its new off-Broadway revival of “Finian’s Rainbow” is so delightful that the run of the show has already been extended.
Why has “Finian’s Rainbow” proved so hard to revive? The answer is regrettably simple: The book, by E.Y. “Yip” Harburg and Fred Saidy, is a heavy-handed mishmash of stage-Irish whimsy-whamsy and Popular Front sermonizing (Harburg was a fellow-traveling socialist) that is as leaden as the score, by Harburg and Burton Lane, is radiantly lyrical….
Enter Charlotte Moore, the artistic director of the Irish Rep and the director of this small-scale revival, who requested and received permission from the estates of the authors of “Finian’s Rainbow” to drastically revise the show. She’s done so with a scythe, cutting the running time to two tight hours, in large part by hacking away at the Harburg-Saidy book until all that’s left is its bare bones….
To be sure, Ms. Moore hasn’t rewritten “Finian’s Rainbow” from snout to tail. It’s still the same old silly story of Rainbow Valley, Missitucky, an Edenically biracial community of poor sharecroppers who thwart a racist senator (Dewey Caddell) by persuading a twee little leprechaun (Mark Evans) to turn him into a black man and who are themselves then corrupted (if only briefly) by unforeseen wealth that turns the “idle poor” into the “idle rich.” The characters still burble dialogue like “Me feet are not walkin’ another step till they know where they’re goin’!” Fortunately, they now spend most of their time singing instead of talking, and you won’t hear better singing—or better songs—on any New York stage.
This brings us to the best news of all, which is the presence in the cast of Melissa Errico. Ms. Errico was last mentioned in this space when a vocal-chord hemorrhage forced her out of the cast of John Doyle’s great 2013 Classic Stage Company revival of “Passion” shortly after opening night. It looked for a time as though her career might be over, but she has since recovered completely, and her performance as Sharon, an Irish lass who comes to Rainbow Valley from Glocca Morra and there finds love with one of the locals (Ryan Silverman), is the stuff dreams are made of….
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Read the whole thing here.
A trailer for the Irish Rep revival of Finian’s Rainbow: