(Charles Isherwood's article appeared in The New York Times, October 30.)
A Pot of Sunny Gold in Those Green Hills
Leaves are decaying in soggy piles in the city’s parks, and the first cold snap has come and gone, awakening anxiety about the prospect of a chilly winter. But permanent sunshine can confidently be predicted for the vicinity of the St. James Theater, where the joyous revival of “Finian’s Rainbow” opened on Thursday night.
Here is where you should head this fall to warm your soul amid the diversions of that ever-great and ever-endangered American art form, musical comedy. All the comforting pleasures of the genre — infectious song, exuberant dancing, jokes both lovably corny and unexpectedly fresh, and of course the satisfying pairing of a him and a her — are on abundant display in this thoroughly winning production, a welcome picker-upper in an uneven Broadway season.
The latest transfer from the beloved City Center Encores! series of musicals in concert, “Finian’s Rainbow” is also the most unlikely. Pretty much nobody expected to see this oddity cavorting beneath a Broadway proscenium again, although the original production was a solid hit that ran for a year and a half when it opened in 1947. Since then the show has come to be considered too corny, too confused, too tainted by misconceptions about its racial politics.
Consider, if you will, the recipe, seemingly cooked up by somebody hitting the whiskey bottle a little too hard. Among the primary cast of characters: one leprechaun, one mute young woman who dances her dialogue, one racist politician who turns from white to black and back again. Locale: Missitucky, a fictional state in the American South where black and white sharecroppers live together in friendly harmony, harvesting tobacco leaves when they are not raising their voices in song. Primary plot device: a purloined pot of gold bestowing the ability to make wishes come true.
But beautiful music has a way of binding together the most unlikely materials, and the score for “Finian’s Rainbow,” by the lyricist E. Y. Harburg and the composer Burton Lane, is itself an overflowing pot of memorable songs, by turns yearning and bouncy, mocking and sincere, soft as a rose petal and clever as a crossword.
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