Monday, 2 January 2017

Irish Repertory Theatre production of FINIAN'S RAINBOW

     It is only by the boldest stretch of the imagination that FINIAN'S RAINBOW can be considered an Irish show. Yes, it contains a leprechaun and a stock stage Irishman, but the show, written by Jewish writers and composers and set in the American South is more about the encroachment of capitalism into rural America and Southern racism than it is about anything Irish. It is quite daring on both these subjects. This rural southern area is transformed by the Sears and Roebuck catalogue and the possiblity of buying with a credit card. The populace may celebrate the "Great Come and Get It Day," but Sears and Roebuck come to collect. The show begins with a land auction. Money is paramount in this show, the pot of gold everyone wishes for. So is racism, a subject  lyricist Yip Harburg had also dealt with in BLOOMER GIRL, another show set in the South, three years before (1944). There is a fair amount of whimsy in FINIAN'S RAINBOW, but it sugar coats the powerful social satire.
     FINIAN'S RAINBOW was revived on Broadway with a very strong cast just a few years ago. That strongly cast but visually tacky production, a transfer from City Center Encores, didn't last long. That revival raised questions about how well a faithful revival of a 1947 show actually plays. This one at Irish Rep, adapted and directed by Charlotte Moore, makes some wise decisions. Of necessity in a small theatre, there are only thirteen performers and a small band (piano, violin, cello, harp). All the performers have excellent voices so, wonder of wonders, there is no amplification. Moore has made the wise decision of cutting the dialogue to the bone. There is only enough dialogue to move the story along and lead into the songs. One gets the point of the satire and gets a sense of the characters--what more is needed? We go to revivals of shows like FINIAN'S RAINBOW for the terrific songs and here they are excellently performed. And it all clocks in at under two hours.
     Melissa Errico must drink from the fountain of youth. She is as vibrant as she was two decades ago and sings beautifully. Ryan Silverman is the ideal Handsome Leading Man, a dying breed in musical theatre. Mark Evans thankfully doesn't overdo it as the Leprechaun. Alas, Ken Jennings does go over the top as the old Irishman, Finian. The rest of the ensemble is fine and Moore's simple staging is sitting for the scale of the production.
     The production is a big hit for Irish Rep. For us it was the perfect way to ring out 2016. The score by Burton Lane and Yip Harburg is classic and this cast does it full justice.

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