Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Crazy Bright - Finian's Rainbow - Musical Review

Finian's Rainbow - St. James Theatre - Broadway, New York, NY - **** (out of 5)
Music by Burton Lane, Lyrics by E.Y. Harburg, Book by E.Y. Harburg & Fred Saidy, Adapted by Arthur Perlman, Directed and Choreographed by Warren Carlyle
Opened Oct. 29th 2009
Note: Review based on preview performance

Finian's Rainbow is back on Broadway!

What Rainbow you say? Yah, I've never heard of it either, and only knew about it when City Center's Encore series presented the 1947 musical in their special concert staging earlier this year. And from those reviews, I had heard that the music was gorgeous but the book and story were creaky and crazy.

And crazy it is! The story follows Finian and his daughter Sharon as they move from Ireland to the made up land of Missitucky, USA to bury a stolen pot of gold near Fort Knox, where it will apparently replicate itself into riches galore. Meanwhile, Finian and Sharon manage to save the small town they've landed in from a corrupt white racist Senator who by a magic spell, turns into a black man. Og, the leprechaun, chases after his stolen pot of gold to avoid turning human. There's a mute dancer, a man named Woody who Sharon automatically falls in love with (yah she does!) and songs about living on credit.

Yes, I didn't make any of that up. It's a nutbar story and almost fun in its ridiculousness, but yet with its story about living on credit and banking on gold to replicate from the ground, it's almost timely in our economic recession.

The musical is so spirited, light and funny, (even in the "racism is bad" plotline), it's hard not to get a kick out of the slight moral lesson within the fantastically loopy book. You know those old, dated, light, silly and frothy musicals The Drowsy Chaperone made fun of? This is one of those musicals.

But to see one of those musicals in full Broadway presentation with a full orchestra playing its gorgeous luscious score is quite a treat. And the new Broadway revival fills the cast with terrific delights that makes this creaky silly musical seem like a wonder.

As a fan of Kate Baldwin (White Christmas, She Loves Me), I was excited that she finally gets a leading lady role on the great white way and fills Sharon's shoes with an exquisite voice and a soothing demeanor, and her red hair and white skin seems to glow on the St. James stage.

Baldwin's Sharon falls quickly in love with townsfolk Woody and while it seems to fast in the story, casting Cheyenne Jackson (Xanadu, 30 Rock) makes it all believable. Who wouldn't fall in love with Cheyenne the moment they see the tall strapping dark and handsome man? And if that doesn't get you, his voice will, both smooth and commanding, melt your heart.

Baldwin and Jackson's voices are perfect for the old-fashioned but soaring songs that are so beautiful and romantic that the sparks between the two easily fly (esp. since Jackson has become quite the gay icon, and Baldwin is married to fellow Canadian Broadway actor Graham Rowat) while the voices harmonize to the grand orchestrations that transcends the loopy story.

As Og, the Irish Leprechaun, Christopher Fitzgerald has his work cut out for him, but Fitzgerald, who stole the show in Young Frankenstein and became a terrific unlikely leading man in Minsky's, manages to not just make Og the Leprechaun believable, but totally endearing and hilarious with an actual emotional arc.

Fitzgerald, with his smaller frame and googly eyes is absolutely adorable and totally hilarious as the leprechaun who keeps growing to human size the longer he's missing his pot of gold. His voice is soaring and his comedic timing is always spot on and it's such a treat to see his zany energy as a counterpoint to Baldwin and Jackson's swoonworthy chemistry.

Terri White gets a showstopping number ("Necessity") of her own as one of the black folk living in the town.

Jim Norton is perfectly old, mischievous and bouncy as Finian who fully believes in his own antics. He creates a lovely center that ties all the random plots together and his Irish charms manage to pull them all together as one can with such crazy ideas.

David Schramm and Chuck Cooper both play the racist Senator (before and after the magic spell) in a hilarious cartoon character and they make the stereotype work with their gusto performances. Though I did find the moment Chuck Cooper's black Senator became friendly with the black quartet singing group, it was the one lull in the show, though not for any of the performance fault.

Alina Faye is lovely as the mute dancer, and Christopher Borger is a treat as the young black kid.

The entire cast is terrific and the voices sound glorious in harmony, while the ensemble is made up of some great dancers.

It's great to see such a solid soaring production of such a loopy cartoony musical (enhanced by the cartoony set of green rolling hills) that happens to have some of the most gorgeous music. And it's truly enchanting to hear the likes of Jim Norton, Christopher Fitzgerald, Terri White fill in these cartoon roles with a three dimensional performance, all while surrounding the should-be-huge-Broadway-stars-if-it-were-up-to-me leads Kate Baldwin and Cheyenne Jackson.

Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com


Juan David said...

So, the internet is telling me that Kate Baldwin isn't Canadian...

Vance said...

Hmm, you're right. Though I remember when she was here in Toronto for White Christmas, the articles were all about her and her husband Graham Rowat being hometown (ish, from towns close by) leads, but maybe I was mistaken or they meant only Rowat? Oops.

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