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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
But it takes more than wishes to nourish and keep a dream strong.
For activist-songwriter Yip Harburg, the days before the pre-Civil War Rights movement gathered steam were a time to use a fairy tale about a pot gold "borrowed" from a leprechaun as a means to pioneer putting black and white actors on the same stage — as friends and neighbors rather than servants and masters. The result was Finian's Rainbow which landed on Broadway in 1947 for a 725 performance run.
For Charlotte Moore Finian's Rainbow embodies the dream she and Irish Rep co-founder Ciaran O'Reilly have been pursuing since 1988: to present beautifully rendered productions of plays and musicals with Irish roots. When they produced Moore's first adaptation of Harburg's collaboration with composer Burton Lane, and librettist Fred Saidy in 2003, their even bigger dream of renovating their modest Chelsea home into a first-class venue was still a distant dream to make happen — not by planting a pot of gold to wish on at the door or in the lobby, but by winning the support of their many fans with continuously top drawer work.
I can't think of a better way to bring this invaluable company's dream of a fine home for excellent Irish-imbued theater full circle than with a revival of Finian's Rainbow. As usual they've done it just right. It's a revival that's handsomely spruced up and well appointed with talent to fit their smartly renovated twenty-second street theater.
As the theater now has more comfortable seating and better sight lines but remains an intimate venue, this new Finian's Rainbow is still an intimate production but with richer staging and some fine tuning. That richness owes much to James Morgan's lovely scenic design that takes full advantage of the larger playing area. Another major contribution is choreographer McNabb's superb work for the ensemble and lead dancer, Susan the Silent (the exquisite Lyrica Woodruff).
There's also a reason the show's incredible hit parade of ear-hugging songs sounds better than ever: an all female orchestra that now features a harp, violin, cello and piano instead of just two pianos. The tingling sounds of that harp, the warmth of the cello and violin do wonders for the lovely duets and solos, and lively R&B rhythms.
In addition to Morgan, McNabb, the crafts team and Director Moore freshening up their work from twelve years ago, the original Sharon McLonergan is on board. And no, the golden-voiced, very pretty Melissa Errico is not too old to play the romantic lead, and her voice is as golden as ever.
I'll get to the rest of the cast in a moment: the two leading men in Sharon's life. . . her father. . . the townspeople of Rainbow Valley, Missitucky. . . the crooked white supremist Senator Rawkinss and his henchmen. But first a quick rundown of the plot in case you're a Finian's Rainbow newbie:
Irishman Finian McLonergan persuades his daughter Sharon to leave Glocca Morra for America where Finian intends to plant a pot of gold stolen from the leprechaun Og and have it grow into a fortune to leave to her. They end up in Rainbow Valley in the mythical state of Missitucky where they help the local sharecroppers to combat the bigotry of the local politicians. To further complicate matters, the McLonergans are pursued by the magical Og, desperate to recover his gold to avoid becoming mortal. Og falls in love with Sharon, and so does Woody, a guitar-strumming local and brother of the silent sister who owns the about to be foreclosed farm that's home to the sharecroppers This being a happy ending fairy tale, the plot twists are resolved so that love, wealth and happiness descend on Rainbow Valley. Clearly, the flare-up of prejudice and less than honorable political doings all around us, prove that for all its old-fashioned silliness Finian's Rainbow was and still is a timely satire as well as an always welcome respite from reality.
To get back to Sharon's suitors, dad, new friends and antagonist. . . she's lucked out. Ryan Silverman is tall, dark, handsome and strong-voiced. Mark Evans is a delightfully fanciful and fairy-like creature in his green leprechaun costume (courtesy of David Toser — since there are no costume changes, Toser did have me wishing he'd given Errico a nicer dress). Evans too is a splendid singer and a wonderfully graceful dancer as evident in his "Dance of the Golden Crock" and the "When I'm Not Near the Girl I Love" duet with the ethereal Lyrica Woodruff's Susan (for which she deserves a reprise bravo).
The ensemble features some terrific belters, notably Angela Grovey as Sally Ann. Her "Necessity" almost shakes some of the tree-like poles from their bases. The songwriters didn't write solos for everyone, not even the title character. However , Director Moore has deftly integrated Ken Jennings's Finian into several of the ensemble numbers which contribute mightily to the show's and this production's pleasures.
I usually keep my program open to the song list when watching a musical, with pen in hand to put a little mark next to some of the standout numbers. But there's no picking a breakout tune here and there in this show. It simply doesn't stop hitting the hummable hit mark from start to finish. I'll therefore just leave you to look at the song list below.
To conclude this review about a show that relies on three deliberately and haphazardy expressed wishes for its happy ending, my wish for all of you reading this is that you'll find time to see this grand old musical fairy tale.
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Music by Burton Lane, lyrics by Yip Harburg, book by Fred Saidy
Adapted and directed by Charlotte Moore
Cast: Cast: Melissa Errico as (Sharon), William Bellamy (Gospeleer), Kimberly Doreen Burns (Lilly Mae), Dewey Caddell (Senator), Peyton Crim (Sheriff), Mark Evans (Og), Matt Gibson (Buzz Collins), Angela Grovey (Sallyann), Ken Jennings (Finian), Ramone Owens (Gospeleer), Kyle Taylor Parker (Gospeleer), Ryan Silverman (Woody), Lyrica Woodruff (Susan the Silent).
Scenic design by James Morgan
Costume design by David Toser
Lighting design by Mary Jo Dondlinger
Music Director: Geraldine Anello
Orchestrations: Josh Clayton
Hair Styles: Robert-Charles Vallance
Stage Manager: Pamela Brusoski
Orchestra: Geraldine Anello, Janey Choi, Nina Kellman, Melanie Mason Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, includes 1 intermission
Irish Repertory Theatre 132 West 22nd Street
From 10/26/16; opening 11/06/16; closing 1/29/17
We 3 and 8pm; Thurs 7pm, Fri 8pm, Sat 3 and 8pm, Sun 3pm
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at November 3r press preview
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