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Friday, July 24, 2009


Leprechauns, Racists and Me

I'm working on an article for next week previewing the entire Broadway season, but I need to obsess over one particular new show...or rather, an old show making a long-overdue return.

For decades, I have loved Finian's Rainbow, the gangly, uneven 1947 musical from Harburg and Lane (better known these days as the tunesmiths of The Wizard of Oz). Finian's a bit of a mess, because its book is truly horrible, an odd mashup of fairy tale and social bluster. (Get this: Irish leprechauns are transported to the Southern United States, specifically a mythical land called Missitucky, where they encounter woefully dated stereotypes in the battle for race relations as they dither over a pot of gold. Not exactly Shakespeare.)

But but but BUT. The score is one of the most beautiful ever composed for the theatre -- elegant, pristine, surprising, and beautiful, featuring bona fide classics "Look To The Rainbow," "Ole Devil Moon" and "How Are Things In Glocca Morra." How much do I love this score? Well, at my wedding in 2005, my classical-singer husband offered to perform any song of my choosing. And I chose "Glocca Morra."

The new revival stars Cheyenne Jackson (Xanadu), Kate Baldwin (Wonderful Town) and Jim Norton (The Seafarer), repeating their roles from last season's concert version at City Center Encores. Kate's the one singing above; while I prefer the more delicate interpretation of Melissa Errico (who starred in the 2004 Off-Broadway revival with Malcolm Gets), Kate's is still a beautiful rendition.

But Finian's Rainbow, if I'm being brutally honest, is not a great musical...just one of the greatest scores of all time, burdened with a hopelessly FUBAR book. Finian hasn't seen a Broadway revival since the 60's, and that's no accident. While I hope this new version finds success, I'm dubious about its prospects -- once the New York crowd finishes seeing it (by Christmas or so, I'm guessing), are tourists really going to flock to a sweet, old-fashioned musical about leprechauns and racists? Especially with Spider-Man and Hugh Jackman as alternative options?

So here's my advice: if you truly love musicals, grab tickets now...and I'd suggest going before Thanksgiving. It's worth the trip, and who knows how long you'll have the chance.

[vidlink via the divine Sarah]
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Blogger Chris Caggiano said...

I'm going to reserve my judgment on this one until I see the full book in action. Yeah, the Encores presentation was creaky, but they were using a severely cut-down book. But I'm with you on the score: there's not a bad tune in the bunch. Just glorious.

BTW, I think you'll find that the composer on the Wizard of Oz was Harold Arlen, not Burton Lane. But Yip Harburg was definitely the lyricist.

7/24/09, 11:35 AM  
Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Loved the music that was simply divine, but didn't care at all for the Encores book. Given Chris' missive, perhaps I'll need to go back and see if the full mounting is any better.

8/4/09, 10:15 AM  

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