Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Finian's Rainbow Redux

A few years ago we saw a semistaged revival of the 1947 musical Finian's Raiunbow at Encores at City Center in New York. It was a delightful rendition of a wonderful musical. So when my daughter alerted me that it would be done on a one-night only at Olney Theatre, we made the rush-hour trip out to Olney Friday evening and the show was worth the journey.

This was pretty much a concert version with the orchestra -- a large one -- at the back of the stage and the cast occupying the front two rows of seats set up in front of the musicians. They would come up front when they were performing and there was a good deal of dancing along with the singing and the recitatives, to use the operatic term. Of course, one of the principals fills what is a totally dancing role--until the very end.

The performers were perfectly fine, with not much available in the minimal program as to background but the lead soprano had a nice full voice for what is the major singing role, the leading man was strong, and my favorite, the leprechaun, who was somewhat larger than one expects, had a nice voice.

In my view, he has the two cleverest E.Y. Harburg lyrics: "When I'm Not Near the Girl I Love (I Love the Girl I'm Near)" and "Something Sort of Grandish" and performed them well. The original in that role was the great Broadway vet David Wayne and seeing a picture of him in the role, I for the first time realized he brought an additional advantage to the role: being slight of build.

The Harburg-Burton Lane songs, of course, are fantastic: "How Are Things in Glocca Mora", "Old Devil Moon", "The Great Come-and-Get-It Day", "If This Isn't Love", "Look to the Rainbow" (reminds you of Harburg's "Over the Rainbow"), and "When the Idle Poor Become the Idle Rich" as well as "The Begat" which was better sung by the "Gospelers" than I ever remember.

One theater historian said that Finian's Rainbow was "a socialist analysis in the form of an American musical." Part of the fun the show engenders is the shrewdness with which Harburg created the lyrics. They have a political and even philosophical spark but avoid hitting you over the head with ideology.

The soprano's Irish accent came and went, which was also not a problem. It's delightful to listen to the recording of the original show and hear the lead, Ella Logan, employ a charming Irish accent, made even more enjoyable once you realize that she wasn't Irish. 

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