Sunday, December 25, 2016

Review of "Finian's Rainbow"

For musical theater enthusiasts there is no better way to spend a cold, frigid New York afternoon or evening then at the splendid, feisty revival of Finian’s Rainbow at the Irish Repertory Theater.  There is much to enjoy about this scaled down version of the classic show.  First, and foremost, is the talented cast led by Melissa Errico and Ryan Silverman.  They are wonderful performers with beautiful voices and a chemistry that is real and tender.  Second, is the theater.  It is a marvelous performance space that allows the audience to develop a special and close relationship with the actors and actresses on stage.  Lastly, is the timeless score by Burton Lane and E.Y. Harburg.  What other show has such remarkable, lyrical songs in one production?  They include "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?," "If This Isn't Love," "Necessity," and one of my all-time favorites, “Old Devil Moon.”  

For those not familiar with the 1947 musical, the plot centers on Finian (Ken Jennings) and his daughter Sharon (Melissa Errico), who have arrived from Ireland to settle in the south’s Rainbow Valley to make a new life for themselves.  Finian has brought with him a swiped pot of gold in the belief that if he buries it the land will become exceptionally fertile.  But Og (Mark Evans), a leprechaun has followed them to these shores to recover the stolen goods before he loses his otherworldly powers and turns human.

Melissa Errico and Ryan Silverman in "Finian's Rainbow."

Soon after father and daughter arrive they are quickly accepted by the towns folk, especially Woody (Ryan Silverman), who has a hankering for the young lass and they quickly become a couple.  At the same time Og develops a warm spot for Woody’s mute sister Susan (Lyrica Woodruff).  But trouble is brewing as the area’s bigoted Senator Rawkins (Dewey Caddell) has set his sights on underhandedly snatching the town’s fertile hillsides.  Yet, through some inadvertent magic the politician’s plans are thwarted.  The land is saved, marriages abound, and a happy ending resounds from the rafters.

The book by E.Y. Harburg and Fred Saidy, while whimsical, romantic, and carefree on the surface, stealthily addresses such meaningful issues as race relations, consumerism, and immigration policies.  Both authors were known for injecting a sophisticated wit and social commentary into their work.  Even though the show is over 70 years old the topics and subject matter, sadly, still resonate loudly in today’s political climate.
Mark Evans and Melissa Errico in "Finian's Rainbow."
Burton Lane and E.Y. Harburg have written a rousing score with beautiful ballads, joyous and celebratory numbers, and comedic gems.  But, as with the book of the musical, a number of the songs also have finely honed appraisals and pointed observations.

The set design by James Morgan is fanciful, somewhat flippant and full of imagery with, for example, musical notes painted on the walls of the small stage.   

Everyone in the cast is of the highest caliber.  The notables include Ken Jennings, mischievous and impish as Finian. Melissa Errico, broad smiling and shimmering voice, has an innocent charm and independent streak, which makes her portrayal so winning.  Ryan Silverman is charismatic and self-assured as Ms. Errico’s love interest.  He exudes a down home appeal and gallantry, as well as a roguish lure.  Mark Evans, tall, lanky, with a beguiling grin, provides a comedic spark throughout the production.  Lyrica Woodruff, graceful and elegant, beautifully conveys her thoughts and emotions through her artistically executed dance steps.
Members of the ensemble of "Finian's Rainbow."
Director Charlotte Moore skillfully does more with less by utilizing her small band of performers to give the production a full-bodied look.  The action on stage, when the whole cast is present, is bustling with energy and liveliness.   The flow of the movement comes across as natural without any fussiness or showiness.  She also demonstrates a lighter touch with the intimate and comedic moments as with the “Old Devil Moon” and “Something Sort of Grandish” numbers, respectively.

Finian’s Rainbow, a handsome, tuneful revival at the Irish Repertory Theater through January 29th.

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