Friday, October 30, 2009

Finian's Rainbow


Book by E.Y. Harburg & Fred Saidy (adapted by David Ives and Arthur Perlman), lyrics by Harburg, music by Burton Lane. Directed and choreographed by Warren Carlyle. St. James Theatre. (CLOSED)

Critics work the "pot of gold" metaphor hard in describing their mostly ecstatic embrace of this unlikely revival (based on the Encores! revival earlier this year) of Yip Harburg and Burton Lane's 1947 musical, which mixes blarney and social satire in odd portions that have made the show a seeming no-go for years. Though the cream of the kudos go to the score--and to its rendering by a full-sized orchestra and chorus--there's also near-universal praise for the leads, particularly the radiant Kate Baldwin but also the twinkling Jim Norton and the strapping Cheyenne Jackson, with a few special nods for Chris Fitzgerald's capering leprechaun and Terri White's authoritative rendering of "Necessity." Some critics diverge on the performances' merits, and many find the set undistinguished, but their biggest differences are on the merits of Harburg and Saidy's fanciful but pointed script: Is it ludicrous and hamhanded "whimsy-whamsy," as Terry Teachout puts it, or a prescient and irresistible fable with unexpected contemporary relevance? We note with pleasure the return of two long-silent critical voices, now writing for new venues: Michael Sommers and Howard Kissel.

Backstage A+
(Erik Haagenson) A magical production that should enchant both lovers of the Golden Age musical and those who favor more-contemporary fare. Personally, I would have called such a thing impossible. But this "Finian's Rainbow" is for everybody, and I hope it runs forever...Wisely, the producers...brought in Arthur Perlman, a respected book writer in his own right and a Harburg aficionado. Perlman has restored the politics, worked overtime to maintain narrative cohesion, disciplined the whimsy, and kept the emotional stakes high. He and director-choreographer Warren Carlyle make sure there isn't a single wasted moment. The show flies giddily by, touching lightly but tellingly on issues of class and racial prejudice while making us care about its story and characters...Cheyenne Jackson and Kate Baldwin as the lovers were highpoints of the concert version, and they've only gotten better here. His easy grace has been fortified with grit and a sly wit, while she has discovered strength in stillness. Both still sing gloriously. Jim Norton's delightful Finian remains the show's emotional center...An immeasurable boost comes from the addition of the scintillating Christopher Fitzgerald.

Theatermania A+
(David Finkle) Every single production element coalesces into one incandescently seamless whole...While the script (which has been tweaked by Arthur Freedman and David Ives) can occasionally seem old-fashioned, lyrics which mock "the misbegotten GOP" and the birth of credit are astonishingly pertinent. As for the amazing score by Burton Lane and Harburg -- which includes such now-standards as "Old Devil Moon," and "How Are Things in Glocca Morra" -- let's just say that every song in the show is the best song in the show. Director and choreographer Warren Carlyle not only sees to the show's singing and dancing requirements imaginatively, but he also takes care that every chorus member has a distinct personality. He's also assembled a stand-out cast of lead performers.

The New York Times A
(Charles Isherwood) Joyous...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...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. Under the nimble direction of Warren Carlyle, who also supplies the buoyant choreography, this bounteous score is being sung with lively conviction by a cast of Broadway regulars and veterans, and one confident newcomer. The morning after seeing “Finian’s Rainbow,” you may well find yourself shaking your head at the absurdities of the book by Mr. Harburg and Fred Saidy, a tipsy jumble of romance, fantasy and satire...But you will remember, above all, the soaring lift of the music.

Variety A
(David Rooney) It's not so much the uncanny appropriateness of its pixified fairy tale as the enveloping warmth of Burton Lane's melodies and the spry wit of Yip Harburg's lyrics that make "Finian's Rainbow" such an infectious charmer. Rather than try to get around the 1947 musical's daffy story by hammering the social satire, director-choreographer Warren Carlyle and his winning cast simply embrace its quaint idiosyncrasies...From the moment music director Rob Berman raises his lighter-than-air baton on the show's soaring overture, blissful surrender is the only option...Much of the credit for the revival's appeal goes to astute casting. Norton made a memorably sly and sozzled Dubliner in "The Seafarer" two seasons back, and he delivers a more benign version of that twinkly stereotype here, dignifying it with soulfulness, nimble physicality and a gentle comic touch. Jackson's supple voice and relaxed leading-man confidence are a smooth fit for Woody, while Baldwin, mostly seen on Broadway up to now in secondary roles or replacement casts, is a revelation...Fitzgerald's vaudevillian musical comedy skills are put to excellent use as the Cole Porter-quoting Og...With a nod to the exhilarating moves of original choreographer Michael Kidd, Carlyle blends classical with Celtic with hoedown to buoyant effect.

Associated Press A
(Michael Kuchwara) Has a refreshing, retro feel to it. There's no flashy staging or gargantuan scenic designs to distract from the handiwork of director-choreographer Warren Carlyle, who has elected to tell the story as simply and sweetly as possible. And sweet, with just the right amount of impishness, is what best describes the ever-youthful score by Burton Lane (music) and E.Y. Harburg (lyrics)...And it's superbly sung, starting with a radiant Kate Baldwin as that spirited lass, Sharon McLonergan, who travels from Ireland with her scamp of father, Finian, played by a perpetually twinkling Jim Norton...Carlyle first did the show earlier this year as part of the City Center "Encores!" series, and much of the cast is the same. But all the changes for Broadway have enhanced the musical.

The Daily News A
(Joe Dziemianowicz) Old show, fresh delights. That's the aim of any revival and "Finian's Rainbow" hits the mark...The fine-tuned production carries you away on a cloud of melody, magic and make-you-swoon performances. Admittedly, this 1947 musical fable isn't an elegant construction. It's more of an odd-lot stew...Yip Harburg and Fred Saidy jammed their script with jabs at prejudice, greed and the political establishment. The barbs still grab and a subplot about a bigoted white senator (David Schramm) who turns into a black man (Chuck Cooper) has the satirical saltiness of "South Park." What makes the show a gem is the beautiful score by Harburg and Burton Lane. It's wall-to-wall ear candy and director/choreographer Warren Carlyle's witty staging, joyful dancing and fine cast showcase the music to the max.

New Jersey Newsroom A
(Michael Sommers) Anyone with a taste for vintage musicals will want to savor the sparkling concoction known...This 1947 treasure from the Golden Age of Broadway musicals offers a whimsical story and an exceptionally lovely score...Customers demanding tons of fabulous scenery with their musicals will be disappointed by the modesty of this one-set affair. From the rich, ripe sound of it, the budget has been spent wisely upon the score, what with 24 musicians in the orchestra and a large chorus doing beautifully by the music...Old-fashioned in style and yet amazingly current in its wry viewpoint, the melodious "Finian's Rainbow" is an unusually beguiling time.

The Hollywood Reporter A
(Frank Scheck) Has the kind of score...that can still make any theatergoer swoon. The longtime rap on this 1947 work is that the book, co-written by Harburg and Fred Saidy, was too problematic for modern times. But seeing the show again, in this version artfully adapted by Arthur Perlman, proves not only that the complaint is unjustified but that the racial and economic issues it touches upon are more relevant than ever...But whatever one thinks of the story, there's simply no disputing that this is one of the greatest musical comedy scores ever written...The production, wonderfully directed and choreographed by Warren Carlyle in an expansion of the concert version presented last season at Encores!, does full justice to the material. Although the scenery and costumes are little more than serviceable, the performances couldn't be bettered.

USA Today A
(Elysa Gardner) This old-fashioned musical comedy, with its witty, whimsical book and sumptuous score, carries pointed lessons about tolerance, greed and the shared traits that make all living beings vulnerable and valuable. Those teachings are delivered with a light hand and a full heart in the enchanting revival...Under Warren Carlyle's gently buoyant direction, Rainbow's eclectic characters – among them a racist Southern senator, a mischievous Irishman and a leprechaun – come to life naturally and gracefully, winking at stereotypes while transcending them...While other supporting performances are also winning – among them Christopher Fitzgerald's sprightly Og and Tyrick Wiltez Jones' brief but priceless turn as a precocious servant – the three leads deserve special credit for this Rainbow's charming authenticity.

Musical America A
(Howard Kissel) The best thing about the revival is its treatment of the powerful score. The original orchestrations, by Robert Russell Bennett and Don Walker, have been left unscathed, with all 24 players alive and kicking in the pit. That the producers have opted to hire the full complement of musicians, rather than cut the score down, is laudable by today’s Broadway standard. Plus, the music is splendidly conducted by Rob Berman. Sixty years ago it was standard for every show to have a full chorus. The audience apparently expected quite a lot when it ponied up $6.90 for an orchestra seat. Here the choral writing is especially beautiful – and sung by the 12-member chorus with great resilience. The revival has been beautifully cast...“Finian’s Rainbow” is one of the American musical theaters’ great triumphs. The revival is loving, radiant and musically thrilling.

On Off Broadway A
(Matt Windman) Even if the musical is dated, dusty and politically incorrect, director-choreographer Warren Carlyle's vibrant revival is too romantic, funny, melodious, and well-cast to ignore. And unlike most Broadway transfers of Encores! shows, it has been physically altered to look like a full Broadway production and not a semi-staged concert. John Lee Beatty's simple set design is a gorgeous mix of green and yellow shades. Luckily, Ken Billington's spectacular lighting effect of framing the stage with a rainbow is carried over...I can't help but think that had the show's book been substantially revised instead of slightly edited, much of its magic and allure would have been lost in translation. So in spite of all its creakiness and political baggage, it's truly wonderful to have "Finian's Rainbow" back on Broadway. It feels rather like finding a "terrifish, magnifish, delish" crock of gold in the middle of Times Square.

CurtainUp A
(Elyse Sommer) A musical pot of gold. This family friendly, unashamedly feel good show with one hummable song on top of another, eye-popping choreography (a Celtic infused nod to origial choreographer Michael Kidd) and a book that mixes Irish blarney, hokey charm and political satire that's surprisingly timely, the sixty-two year old Finian's Rainbow remains remarkably young and enjoyable. Oh, and did I mention that it's got a good-sized cast (more than 30) and orchestra (2 dozen strong) and that the sound of Burton Lanes lovely score is well modulated and rich but never wildly over-amplified?

New York A-
(Stephanie Zacharek) One hot plate of crazy. And yet in a world where the Birthers are being taken semi-seriously, who couldn’t use a pot of magic gold or two? It turns out that, for all its charming loopiness, Yip Harbug, Fred Saidy, and Burton Lane’s show—essentially a dream vision of an America without racism—is still a provocative work. This marvelous, slightly unhinged revival, directed and choreographed by Warren Carlyle, succeeds because it refuses to wink at the material or treat it as quaint...Carlyle and his cast run wild with the book’s fanciful, sweetly Utopian spirit, but they also hit the play’s satirical notes dead-on...This show’s pleasures are doled out in go-for-broke splashes instead of tasteful dabs. The musical numbers are colorful though never garish—the dancers, in their whirling circle skirts and drapey trousers, make for a cheerful, retro spectacle. Admittedly, some of the magic dust wears off in the second act: There isn’t much of a plot, just a series of situations on which to hang songs. But what songs!

Theater News Online A-
(Mervyn Rothstein) A delight. The joyous songs by Burton Lane and E.Y. (Yip) Harburg – How Are Things in Glocca Morra?, Old Devil Moon, Look to the Rainbow, When I’m Not Near the Girl I Love – get more than part credit. The glorious cast – Jim Norton, Kate Baldwin, Cheyenne Jackson, Christopher Fitzgerald, Terri White, Alina Faye – shares the plaudits, as does Warren Carlyle, the director and choreographer...Baldwin (The Full Monty, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Wonderful Town) attains near-star status. Her expressively crystalline voice triumphs with its aching wistfulness...Jackson (Xanadu, All Shook Up) sings better than ever. The only thing missing is real chemistry between the two — the fire they generate would have trouble igniting a match. This would be fatal in a more serious musical, but in a fantasy like Finian’s Rainbow it’s a minor inconvenience. After all, most of us don’t really believe in leprechauns.

Bloomberg News A-
(John Simon) Its liberal, anticapitalism, antiracism message still resonates as it gleefully scrambles Irish mythology, magical fantasy and, of course, a love story. With snappy text by E.Y. “Yip” Harburg and Fred Saidy, frolicsome lyrics by Harburg, and endearing melodies by Burton makes a virtue of not hitting any of its facets too hard before flitting on...The revival is blessed with wonderful leads. Jim Norton is surely everybody’s dream roisterous Irishman, with enough sparkle in his eyes to light up the last row of the balcony. Never has the brogue sounded prettier -- unless from the lips of Kate Baldwin, a tall, robust Sharon and as entrancing as she is temperamental...She is partnered to a fare-thee-well by the Woody of Cheyenne Jackson, a remarkable blend of ease and intensity, unaffected virility and spontaneous gallantry. Christopher Fitzgerald is the funniest Og that ever left the bog...Alina Faye dances Susan’s mute eloquence expressively, although Warren Carlyle, who both choreographed and directed, is in this instance more workmanlike than transcendent...Rob Berman and the orchestra do ample justice to a score that for winsomeness as well as feistiness has few equals.

NY1 A-
(Roma Torre) By today's standards, "Finian's Rainbow" is crudely constructed. There's a lot happening that doesn't make much sense. Motivation is lacking and there's that sticky issue of racism. On the other hand, it has a very big heart with some gorgeous songs and if you think of this 62-year-old show as a musical theater artifact, impeccably reproduced, then you just might find yourself having a grand time indeed. That lovely score by Burton Lane and Yip Harburg is beautifully served by a superb cast of Broadway veterans. Each of them delivering little gems in this dated work, and that much talent can make anything sing...It's awfully hokey, but the work has a social consciousness masked in humor that makes it utterly delightful. And there are enough surprises along the way to cast a spell on even the most cynical in the audience...The true gold in this show is Kate Baldwin who delivers on all fronts. An engaging actress with a bent for comedy and a glorious set of pipes, she is divine.

Village Voice B+
(Michael Feingold) Apparently, New York's theater aficionados are split between those simply happy to have a great musical from 1947 back, in whatever condition, and those who seem weirdly infuriated that it doesn't blow them away...Sanity, of course, lies somewhere between...Much of the charm of Finian's Rainbow comes precisely from its being the 1947 musical success least adaptable to today's hit-you-over-the-head sensibility...Meantime, the new production, directed and choreographed by Warren Carlyle, has given Finian a substantial amount, though not all, of what it needs to make an impression so many years later...Though an adorable duck of a show, Finian's Rainbow is certainly one of the oddest ducks ever bred in the genre—the only musical, for starters, to contain both leprechauns and sharecroppers.

New York Post B+
(Elisabeth Vincentelli) Thankfully, the show overflows with terrific songs, propelled by Harburg's wit ("Why should I vanquish, relinquish, resish/When I simply relish this hellish condish") and Burton Lane's timeless sense of melody...Though this version was slightly tweaked, the plot still lurches from one preposterous development to another...When a typical twist involves a white senator turning black, you know a show is delirious even by the loose standards of golden-age musical theater...But "Finian's Rainbow" boasts another hallmark of many vintage musicals: The numbers are all sorts of great. Sometimes they advance the story, as when Sharon and Woody fall in love over the gorgeous "Old Devil Moon." Sometimes they're just an excuse for performers to strut their stuff, as they do in "Necessity" (which Terri White hits out of the ballpark) and "Dance of the Golden Crock," possibly the only duet for a ballerina (Alina Faye) and harmonica player (Guy Davis) in the history of Broadway...Whether you think this particularly whimsical crock is half-empty or half-full, the songs are pure heaven.

Wall Street Journal B+
(Terry Teachout) I don't think I've ever seen a more musically satisfying Broadway show than "Finian's Rainbow." Not only is the Yip Harburg-Burton Lane score a string of flawlessly cut gems, but everyone involved with the production takes the songs seriously, performing them with love and sensitivity. Best of all is Kate Baldwin...Ms. Baldwin is the real deal, a rich-voiced soprano who can also act. The way that she and Cheyenne Jackson sing "Old Devil Moon" is the stuff best-selling cast albums are made of...Unfortunately, there comes a time in "Finian's Rainbow" when the actors stop singing and start talking, at which point it becomes excruciatingly clear that the book, by Harburg and Fred Saidy, is a heavy-handed mishmash of Irish whimsy-whamsy and smug sanctimony...Go for the music. It's worth it.

Bergen Record B
(Robert Feldberg) A lively and cheerful affair, which shows off the great Burton Lane-E.Y. Harburg score to full advantage. It also offers an opportunity to share the pleasure of Kate Baldwin's company. The gorgeous actress-singer has done several Broadway shows, but this is the first production that gives her an opportunity to shine...When she does "How Are Things in Glocca Morra" in a crystal-clear, silvery soprano voice that has you hanging on every phrase, you understand why they invented musicals...The show's choreography, which incorporates Irish and American folk dancing elements, is tame and undistinguished, but it is functional. And then there's the book, by Harburg and Fred Saidy. It's been trimmed, and director-choreographer Warren Carlyle has put a happy face on it, but it remains an awkward, scattered combination of whimsy and 1940s liberalism...Tangled as the book is, that's not its main problem. That would be the complete absence of drama.

Newsday B
(Linda Winer) Is there a place on big-ticket Broadway for "Finian's Rainbow," a gentle, modestly produced revival of an odd 1947 musical-comedy/Irish-immigrant/Southern-cracker fable with a strong cast, a doggedly foolish book, a progressive conscience and a songbook of ravishing classics by Yip Harburg and Burton Lane? Tough call...With her creamy, gleaming soprano and her strapping no-nonsense physicality, Kate Baldwin is again the news of the revival...The plot does have the eerie relevance of mortgage foreclosures and easy credit. Harburg's lyrics are sly and delicious. Christopher Fitzgerald makes a delightful, increasingly libidinous leprechaun..Sweet, but short of grandish.

Talkin' Broadway B-
(Matthew Murray) I wish that the production itself were as good as it should be. This is, at its heart, a thrillingly original piece of writing that does what all topical and charged plays should do, but (especially these days) usually don’t: make its points with flair, wit, and color, rather than merely a heavy hand...Having a cast large enough to give visual heft to the dances and vocal weight to the songs makes a major psychological difference. And having an orchestra (unusual for an Encores!-transferred show, actually in the pit!) packed with (among others) nine strings, five woodwinds, and a harp, makes the score sound like, well, a score, lush and sweeping - not elevator music...But truly successful Broadway musicals also require that little something extra...Carlyle’s dances are fine as basic sketches, but lack the spark and invention needed to fill a full, orchestra-free stage...Plus, many of the actors are still performing as though they’re carrying scripts. This is most evident with Cheyenne Jackson, who’s utterly unequipped to play Woody, with far too thin and modern a voice and insufficiently charismatic rabble-rousing sensibilities.

Entertainment Weekly B-
(Tanner Stransky) An odd, farcical musical that, while by no means offensive, inspires this kind of response: "Huh? Really?"...The show walks a bizarre line between fantasy and reality, which makes the pairing of such heavy themes with a fantastical atmosphere come off as madcap. But despite the weaknesses of the original material, this revival is well cast and smartly performed...The music and dancing, too, are grand...The real showstopper comes just before intermission, when Terri White's Dottie, leading the show's sharecropper chorus, belts out a soul-heavy version of the hard-driving "Necessity." With performances like White's, it becomes rather easy to forget about Finian's narrative silliness.

Time Out NY C+
(Adam Feldman) Far be it from me to rain on the bows being taken by a vintage musical that has received rave reviews, but at times like this, one occasionally wonders: Has the critical community lost its ever-loving mind? Yes, Finian’s Rainbow has several appealing songs; and yes, this 1947 presented to its best advantage in Warren Carlyle’s large, loving production. But ultimately this is a dated and silly show: It’s blarney, it’s bunkum, it’s hokum and hooey. The leprechaun has no clothes...None of the show’s apples fall far from the twee...The cast, which includes the wonderful Terri White, shines—but the show is a golden crock.

New York Observer C+
(Jesse Oxfeld) A good-hearted, high-energy romp with big laughs, beloved songs and some excellent performances. It is also perplexing, a nonsensical and sometimes tedious story that leaves the audience scratching their heads...It’s impossible to dislike this Finian’s Rainbow, but it’s also impossible to love it...It’s all very self-consciously let’s-put-on-a-show. But it shouldn’t be, here on Broadway. Encores is a place for let’s-put-on-a-show. Encores is a place for fun productions of great scores that don’t merit a full revival (perhaps because the books make no sense). And Finian’s Rainbow was a perfect Encores show.

Lighting & Sound America A
(David Barbour) At a time when most revivals are overhyped or stylized beyond recognition--I'm talking about you, Bye Bye Birdie--it's a blessed relief to see one staged by artists who understand what the material has to offer. These pleasures include a genial, highly skilled cast; some delightful clowning; a gleeful willingness to spoof almost anything; and one of the most heavenly scores ever to float out of a Broadway orchestra pit. These days, it's no small achievement that Warren Carlyle, the director and choreographer, and his associates understand that this is more than enough...After years spent languishing in the "unrevivable" file, it turns out that all you need to put it over is the right cast, solid musical values, and a light screwball comedy touch -- all of which Carlyle's production has, in spades...I hope it sticks around for several St. Patrick's Days to come.

Backstage A+ 14; Theatermania A+ 14; The New York Times A 13; Variety A 13; Associated Press A 13; The Daily News A 13; LS&A A 13; New Jersey Newsroom A 13; The Hollywood Reporter A 13; USA Today A 13; Musical America A 13; On Off Broadway A 13; CurtainUp A 13; New York A- 12; Theater News Online A- 12; Bloomberg News A- 12; NY1 A- 12; VV B+ 11; New York Post B+ 11; Wall Street Journal B+ 11; Bergen Record B 10; Newsday B 10; Talkin' Broadway B- 9; Entertainment Weekly B- 9; TONY C+ 8; NYO C+ 8; TOTAL: 306/26= 11.77 (A-)

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