Finian’s Rainbow – Irish Repertory Theatre through December 31.
By Nancy Salz – November 27, 2016
Music by Burton Lane
Lyrics by E.Y. Harburg
Book by E.Y. Harburg & Fred Saidy
Adapted and directed by Charlotte Moore
Musical Supervision by John Bell
Orchestrations by Josh Clayton
Musical direction by Geraldine Anello
Sets by James Morgan
Costume design by David Toser
Lighting design by Mary Jo Dondlinger
Starring Melissa Errico, Ken Jennings, Dewey Caddell, Mark Evans, Ryan Silverman, Angela Grovey, Lyrica Woodruff
Shaped like an emerald, with superb sightlines in both orchestra and balcony, the newly renovated, 148-seat Irish Repertory Theatre is a tiny gem of a venue – with a big, glorious, not-to-be-missed production of Finian’s Rainbow in residence.
During the show, I was enjoying myself too much to even begin to figure out how they packed so much excitement and energy onto such a little stage. But now I think I’ve got it: The brilliance is in the details!
Every flowering vine climbing up and across the beams of James Morgan’s set, every black square and pale-lime square covering the floor adds to the magic. Even the sheet music backdrop is for “Look to the Rainbow,” the song that embodies the wondrous spirit of Finian’s Rainbow.
Director Charlotte Moore’s meticulous staging of the multi-talented Gospeleers and other cast mates made their ensemble singing feel nearly as large as a full Broadway chorus – and they were unamplified, too. (Hallelujah!) Yet no big Broadway production could feel this intimate, this charming. The 2009-10 Broadway revival didn’t come close.
Of course, it helps to be presenting a great Golden Age Broadway show, somewhat shortened with nothing important left out. With music by Burton Lane, lyrics by E.Y. Harburg and book by E.Y. Harburg & Fred Saidy, Finian’s Rainbow has a fantastical, sometimes silly yet surprisingly relevant late 1940s plot as it addresses black/white relations and immigration. There is also love in the plot and a simply gorgeous score – including “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?” “Old Devil Moon,” and “If This Isn’t Love.”
The show takes place in a fictitious state called Missatucky, to which Sharon McLonergan (Melissa Errico) and her father, Finian (Ken Jennings) have immigrated from Ireland. Finian has brought with him a pot of gold – stolen from Og, the leprechaun (Mark Evans), who is slowly turning mortal and falling for Sharon then later Susan The Silent (Lyrica Woodruff). Once buried, the pot of gold grants three wishes, which get used in rather strange ways. Sharon and Finian soon meet Woody Mahoney (Ryan Silverman), who heads a union of both black and white sharecroppers. Woody and Sharon soon fall in love; the racist Senator Rawkins (Dewey Caddell) gets wished into a black man, and Og becomes a love-struck human man.
The initial production of Finian’s Rainbow, which premiered in 1947, was groundbreaking in that both black and white performers shared the stage.
The cast is uniformly terrific. Standouts are Melissa Errico, with her gorgeous, lyric soprano; the minute, energetic and nimble Ken Jennings; the huge-voiced Angela Grovey; and Lyrica Woodruff, a beautiful dancer and actress. Mark Evans was a charming Og, but initially it was hard to get used to a tall leprechaun. (Plus, I couldn’t get Christopher Fitzgerald’s Tony-nominated performance of a few seasons ago out of my mind. My problem, not Evans’s.)
A major test of any choreographer is how much innovation he or she can bring to small-space dancing. Barry McNabb not only created a spell-binding solo for Susan The Silent but also a beautiful duet for her and Og, the leprechaun.
Kudos to David Toser for his delightful costumes, Mary Jo Dondlinger for her spot-on (pun intended!) lighting and Geraldine Anello for her animated piano playing and leading of the four person orchestra.
Entering the lobby of the Irish Repertory Theatre, you will also be greeted by lovely details: a soft scent from the candle next to the box office window and real, pale pink roses atop the wooden bar. This is a perfect welcome for a nearly perfect show. Now if only there were a Scottish repertory theatre in New York, we could all be treated to a revival of Brigadoon.