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Finian's Rainbow

The grand 1947 musical about life in Rainbow Valley gets a magical Broadway revival. logo
Kate Baldwin and Cheyenne Jackson
in Finian's Rainbow
(© Joan Marcus)
Throughout the musical Finian's Rainbow, now being gloriously revived at Broadway's St. James Theatre, leprechaun Og (the prodigiously gifted Christopher Fitzgerald) does any number of eye-popping magic tricks. They are not, however, the only whiz-bang magic that makes this production (based on a previous staging at City Center Encores!) soar. The other, even grander magic is the kind that occurs when every single production element coalesces into one incandescently seamless whole.

The show takes place in the fictional town of Rainbow Valley, Missitucky, where folks of all races live in harmony, and where wily Finian McLonergan (Jim Norton) and daughter Sharon (Kate Baldwin) have arrived from their native Ireland, because he thinks burying a stolen pot of gold near Fort Knox will result in its multiplying. The McLonergans' appearance coincides with the return of the strapping Woody Mahoney (Cheyenne Jackson), who is trying to save the town from the schemes of bigoted local senator Billboard Rawkins (David Schramm).

In due time, many developments unfurl in Missitucky: Sharon and Woody fall for each other; Og -- who is not-so-slowly turning human because of that purloined pot -- tumbles for Woody's sister Susan (Alina Faye), who doesn't speak but dances her sentences; and Senator Rawkins suddenly changes his outlook on life -- after a wish made over the hidden pot turns him into a black man (Chuck Cooper).

Co-librettists E.Y. "Yip" Harburg and Fred Saidy were generous with the Irish whimsy in the storyline, but the show's sharper satire of political corruption and prejudice still stings, albeit sweetly. While the script (which has been tweaked by Arthur Freedman and David Ives) can occasionally seem old-fashioned, lyrics which mock "the misbegotten GOP" and the birth of credit are astonishingly pertinent. As for the amazing score by Burton Lane and Harburg -- which includes such now-standards as "Old Devil Moon," and "How Are Things in Glocca Morra" -- let's just say that every song in the show is the best song in the show.

Director and choreographer Warren Carlyle not only sees to the show's singing and dancing requirements imaginatively, but he also takes care that every chorus member has a distinct personality. He's also assembled a stand-out cast of lead performers, who bring out the best in the already great material. Norton has the right blarney quotient to be a persuasive Finian. Baldwin, the best-looking Irish redhead since Maureen O'Hara, sings with dulcet emotion. Jackson, a cartwheeling fool-in-love, is a picture of smiling virility. Faye dances as if caught by passing zephyrs. The boisterous Shramm seems to be fueled by Rush Limbaugh's oily ideology. Cooper (along with three cohorts) turns "The Begat" into a true showstopper, as does Terri White, who leads the sharecroppers in "Necessity."

Meanwhile, even if most of us no longer use the sort of tobacco those sharecroppers grow, there's no denying that this Finian's Rainbow is definitely smokin'.

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