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A CurtainUp Review
Finian's Rainbow

Finian's Rainbow
Kate Baldwin & Cheyenne Jackson in Finian's Rainbow
When Burton Lane, E. Y. "Yip" Harburg and Fred Saidy's Finian's Rainbow opened on Broadway in 1947, it was a very new kind of musical. Part romantic comedy, part political fantasy, it tackled such thorny issues as the plight of southern sharecroppers, the racist poll taxes and corrupt politicians. None of this should have been very surprising. Harburg, a Brooklyn Jew who in high school sat next to Ira Gershwin with whom he shared a genius for clever rhyming, was one of the most socially conscious lyricists of musical theater.

The show, which played for 725 performances and earned Tonys for choreographer Michael Kidd and David Wayne in the supporting role of the leprechaun Og, proving that political satire can be a popular success. It was revived at City Center in 1955 and 1960, and now it's back again, the final production of the 2008-2009 Encores! season——directed and choreographed by Warren Carlyle. The stellar cast includes Jim Norton as Finian McLonergan, Kate Baldwin as his daughter Sharon, Cheyenne Jackson as the handsome bachelor Woody Mahoney and Jeremy Bobb as the Og.

Set in the fictitious Rainbow Valley in Missitucky, Finian's Rainbow mixes the grim reality of struggling farmers with the whimsical idealism of Finian, an Irish immigrant who steals a pot of gold from Og. With his daughter in tow, takes it to America, where he plans to bury it in Fort Knox under the theory it will grow into a huge treasure. Finian never gets to Fort Knox, but he does discover a group of poor sharecroppers who are about to have their land taken by the corrupt and racist Senator Rawkins (Philip Bosco).

The sharecropper's cause is defended by the guitar-toting radical, Woody (named after another guitar-toting radical, Woody Guthrie). Sharon and Woody quickly fall in love ("Old Devil Moon"). Their romance is first complicated by the fact that Woody intends on going to New York where he will make enough money to help the farmers, then by the arrival of Og who comes to Missitucky for his pot of gold and ends up falling for Sharon.

The pot of gold has the extraordinary ability of granting three wishes to anyone standing over it. The first of these wishes is accidentally granted to Sharon when she wishes the racist senator would turn into a black man. The next is unintentionally used up by Og when he falls in love with Susan Mahoney ("When I'm not near the girl I love, I love the girl I'm near," he warbles). Og hishes the young lady who can only communicate through dance (beautifully executed by Alina Faye) could speak. Now there is only one wish left to return the senator to his original race.

The plot gets so complicated it seems only an act of God will provide a resolution. But in Missitucky anything can happen and usually does in a most musical and delightful way.

Baldwin is divine in the wistful "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?" And the two songs that end Act I and carry the musical from despair to hope, "Necessity" and "That Great 'Come-and-Get-It' Day" are rousing show-stoppers.

In the second act "When the Idle Poor Become the Idle Rich" teaches the valuable lesson of what the rich can get away with while the poor are condemned, and the hat and cane number, "The Begat," gets a big New York cheer with the line "who begat the missbegat in G.O.P."

Finian's Rainbow is one of those 40s musicals that established the genre as it was known until it was once again revolutionized by Stephen Sondheim and his followers. These were the years when escapism was given a healthy dose of reality. It's a show that enthusiastically tells theatergoers, yes we may be down, but we're not yet out. What a timely message!

Finian's Rainbow
Music by Burton Lane
Book by E. Y. Harburg and Fred Saidy
Lyrics by Mr. Harburg
Directed and choreographed by Warren Carlyle
Concert adaptation: David Ives
Music director, Rob Berman
Cast: Kate Baldwin (Sharon McLonergan), Jeremy Bobb (Og), Philip Bosco (Senator Rawkins), Guy Davis (Sunny), Alina Faye (Susan Mahoney), Cheyenne Jackson (Woody Mahoney), Jim Norton (Finian McLonergan), Ruben Santiago-Hudson (Billboard), Andrew Weems (Sheriff), William Youmans (Buzz Collins) and Terri White (Sharecropper). Sets: John Lee Beatty
Costumes: Toni-Leslie James
Lighting: Ken Billington
Sound: Scott Lehrer
Associate director: Marc Bruni
Music coordinator: Seymour Red Press
Original orchestrations: by Robert Russell Bennett and Don Walker
City Center Encores!, at City Center, 131 West 55th Street (212) 581-1212.
From 3/26/09 through 3/29/09
Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes. Review by Paulanne Simmons 3/29/09
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