Finian’s Rainbow @ St. James Theatre, New York

cast list
Kate Baldwin, Aaron Bantum, Tanya Birl, Christopher Borger, Meggie Cansler, Chuck Cooper, Guy Davis, Bernard Dotson, Alina Faye, Christopher Fitzgerald, Leslie Donna Flesner, Sara Jean Ford, Taylor Frey, Lisa Gajda, Kearran Giovanni, Tim Hartman, Cheyenne Jackson, Lauren Lim Jackson, Tyrick Wiltez Jones, Grasan Kingsberry, Kevin Ligon, Jim Norton, Monica L. Patton, Brian Reddy, Joe Aaron Reid, Devin Richards, Steve Schepis, David Schramm, Rashidra Scott, Brian Sears, Paige Simunovich, James Stovall, Elisa Van Duyne, Terri White, William Youmans

directed by
Warren Carlyle
Bright and slap-happy – with witty rhyming lyrics by Yip Harburg to match its delightful score by Burton Lane and a dated, silly book cowritten by Harburg and Fred Saidy, Finian’s Rainbow, now presented as a revival on Broadway following a triumphant concert presentation as part of last season’s New York City Center Encores! series, aims to impress with its utter disregard for contemporary trends.

The show, which seems as if it’s been dated almost since it’s first production on Broadway in 1947, had been revised for last year’s concert presentation by David Ives and has undergone additional tweaking for Broadway executed by Arthur Perlman. All the rejiggering in the world couldn’t turn this creaky story into something really compelling, but it’s still fun enough to keep an audience captive to its charms and distracted from its weaknesses.

The plot is based in Missitucky, a fictional Southern state where a plot of land is up for action, potentially forcing a group of sharecroppers out of their land if no one comes to their rescue. Enter mysterious Irishman Finian McLonergan (Irish acting staple Jim Norton), a sprightly older fellow who, alongside his daughter Sharon (the luminous, steely-voiced Kate Baldwin) shake things up in Missitucky, bringing with them pots of gold and plenty of mischief.

Accidentally using the wishes bestowed upon her by a leprechaun named Og (the superlative Chistopher Fitzgerald), Sharon ends up turning the evil Senator Rawkins – who’s scheming for control of the land – from white to black, leading him on a madcap journey after which he’s decided he doesn’t want to be his old self again.

There are plenty of top-notch performances on display, so many that it’s impossible to highlight each of those who made a strong impression. Though Cheyenne Jackson as village heartthrob Woody seems somewhat underused, Burton and Norton impress in their leading roles, with ample support from David Schramm and the full-voiced Chuck Cooper as the white and black incarnations of Mayor Rawkins, as well as Alina Faye, who in the mostly mute role of Sharon Mahoney makes a strong impact in the stunningly choreographed Dance Of The Golden Crock, executed with skill alongside Guy Davis as Sunny, the two straddling ballet and jazz dance techniques in a dynamic, dramatic use of choreography as storytelling.

There’s not much, ultimately, not to like about Finian’s Rainbow, which features colorful, simple sets by John Lee Beatty that establish the overall look of the show. It’s of the variety of well-made shows that introduces its somewhat cliched complication only to find a neat, cookie-cutter ending by the evening’s end, whereby all parties concerned (except for the bad guys, of course) are happy. If at times its anti-racism almost seems counterintuitively steeped in its own racist assumptions, it’s essential to view the show as one of its time, with a score to remember but which contains little of note that’s relevant to audiences today other than its overall sunny disposition.

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