The Irish Rep's vest-pocket production of this classic musical has been happily transported to the Westport Country Playhouse.
Finian's premiered in 1947 and has not been revived on Broadway since 1960, undoubtedly because its subject matter -- particularly, the plot point in which a racist, white Southern politician is transformed into a black man -- is considered dicey by today's sometimes skewed standards of political correctness. (Senator Billboard Rawkins is wished into blackness so that he may experience racial bigotry from the perspective of those he hates, but some myopic people fail to get the point.) Yet there's no question about the excellence of the musical's score, which includes such evergreens as "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?", "Look to the Rainbow," and "If This Isn't Love." One of the sweetest things about revivals of classic musicals is hearing audience members sigh in delighted recognition when, after a performer has begun a song with a verse that's unfamiliar to the general public, s/he then locks into the main part of the tune that everyone knows and loves. This happened several times during Finian's at Westport. (I should point out that the median age of the crowd looked to be around 55.)
Melissa Errico remains a vocally and visually ravishing Sharon, speaking in a lilting Irish brogue and singing beautifully. As much as I love this performer's work, I suppose I take her extraordinary talent somewhat for granted, but it's worth noting that the friend I brought to see Finian's Rainbow -- who had never before seen or heard Errico -- was totally captivated by her. It's also worth noting that the lady delivers the marvelous Lane-Harburg songs as written, rather than indulging in blatant embellishment as does Ella Logan on the original Broadway cast album. (Happily, the Irish Rep production yielded its own recording on the Ghostlight label, with Errico and the New York cast in top form.)
Malcolm Gets is utterly adorable as Og, whether duetting with Errico in the quintessentially Harburgian "Something Sort of Grandish" or comically lamenting, "When I'm Not Near the Girl I Love (I Love the Girl I'm Near)." If you missed this performance in town, I urge you to get yourself to Westport before Finian's closes there this weekend. (By the way, the leprechaun's name is pronounced with a long "o" sound in this production, rather than being pronounced "ahhg" as in every previous staging of the show that I've ever seen and in the film version. I'm told that this choice resulted from some serious dramaturgical research. Interesting!)
Stephen R. Buntrock is felicitously cast as Sharon's love interest, Woody; though his acting is just a bit too broad for my personal taste, he gloriously displays the strong baritenor that I very much enjoyed when he took over for Patrick Wilson in the recent Oklahoma! revival, and he certainly has chemistry with Errico when they sing about that "Old Devil Moon." The beloved veteran actor Milo O'Shea flubs some of Finian's lines, yet he is so charming and so authentic in the role that one is inclined to forget his forgetfulness. John Sloman as Senator Rawkins hits a homer with his delivery of the best single line in the show: "My whole family's been having problems with immigrants ever since we came to this country!" Also terrific are A.J. Irvin as the senator's toady, Buzz Collins; Jonathan Hadley as the slimy Sheriff; David Staller as the Narrator; Kimberly Dawn Neumann as Susan the Silent; and Andi Hopkins, who scores with the Maid's fiendishly clever song "Necessity" and sells the equally witty "The Begat" with fellow Gospeleers Eric Jackson and Joacquin Stevens.
As in New York, the show features musical director Mark Hartman and Mark Janas expertly playing a skillful reduction of the score on twin grand pianos onstage. Aside from the addition of two more musicians (Edward Alex on piccolo, Ron Jackson on banjo, guitar, and harmonica) and the cast changes, the main difference between the NYC and Westport productions is the layout of the venue. Finian's Rainbow looks right at home on the proscenium stage of the newly renovated Westport Country Playhouse, whereas on West 22nd Street the audience watched the action from two adjacent sides of the stage with a big, thick post in between. (It's hard to picture it if you haven't been to the theater.) James Morgan's scenic design, David Toser's costumes, and Mary Jo Dondlinger's lighting add to the magic, as does Barry McNabb's choreography.