It is a lovely idea for director Charlotte Moore to re-stage the classic musical “Finian’s Rainbow,” which she had revived previously, also with Melissa Errico in the romantic role of Sharon. Errico is back in the part to enchant us with all her singing and acting glory in this Irish Repertory Theatre offering.
The production, with music by Burton Lane, book by E.Y. Harburg and Fred Saidy and lyrics by Harburg, was a bold statement against racism coupled with bright hope for the future when it was first unveiled in 1947. It was very much of its time, and to that extent the book with its fantasy about leprechauns set in the American state of Missatucky, satirizing Mississippi and its racist Senator Bilbo, who was ranting racist speeches in Congress, could be considered dated. But not really.
I happened to see this revival the night after Donald Trump was elected president, and a line in the play dissing immigrants seemed up to the minute. “Finian’s Rainbow” still speaks to us, mostly through its terrific socially-conscious songs, as well as its lovely romantic ones. In the first category are “Necessity,” “When the Idle Poor Become the Idle Rich” and “That Great Come-and-Get-it Day.” In the second are “Old Devil Moon,” “If This Isn’t Love” and “When I’m Not Near the Girl I Love.” Geared to the show’s fantasy and hopeful side are the beautiful “How Are Things in Glocca Mora?” and “Look to the Rainbow.” The writing visionaries who created “Finian’s Rainbow” knew how to produce great show songs.
As well as delight in the glowing performance of Errico, one can sit back and enjoy the achievements of Ken Jennings as her father, the feisty Finian, who has stolen a pot of gold from leprechauns in hope of its spawning more riches. Ryan Silverman makes a handsome leading man and sings appealingly as Woody, who loves Sharon and who stands out as the honest man of Missatucky. Mark Evans is delightful and amusing as Og, the leprechaun, and Lyrica Woodruff is enchanting as Susan the Silent, who expresses herself by dancing to perfection (choreography by Barry McNabb).
The supporting cast members and the overall company are also superb, and integrated, just as it was in making a bold statement in 1947 against segregation. The small-scale production in the Irish Rep’s limited stage space provides an intimacy that enables the key aspects of the musical, as adapted and directed by Moore, to shine through. An excellent four-piece orchestra does justice to the score, with John Bell as musical supervisor and Geraldine Anello as music director. James Morgan has provided a most appropriate and attractive, leafy set design that suggests a countryside and helps establish the mood even before the show begins.
With respect to the plot, I think not enough was made of the racist Senator Rawkins (well-played by Dewey Caddell), who is temporarily turned black. This should produce a high-point of get-even laughter, but it sort of slips by without being sufficiently accented. There is also the problem of having to be politically correct these days instead of perhaps using blackface to make the point. A timid light brown half-face mask passes for the suggestion of the serves-the-racist-senator-right change.
But otherwise the musical captures the spirit of the original with its wisdom, romanticism and fun as a memorable achievement of its time. It is a show always ripe for revival. At the Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street. Phone: 212-727-2737. Reviewed November 10, 2016.