BOTTOM LINE: A decent revival of a classic Broadway musical that lacks some of the relevance it once had, but is still fairly entertaining.
Finian's Rainbow first hit the Broadway stage in 1947 and hasn't been revived for nearly 50 years. After a very successful run at City Center last year it is bringing smiles to Broadway audiences once again at the St. James Theatre. The cast is filled with some notable television and Broadway performers and the show includes classic Broadway show tunes that you are probably familiar with like the jazz standard, "Old Devil Moon." It was a really important show when it first premiered because it was one of the first shows to have a fully integrated cast. It deals with issues of class, race, and economics in a cheeky, satirical way that was way ahead of its time when it was first seen half a century ago.
The story centers on Finian (Jim Norton), an older Irish gentleman who brings his daughter, Sharon (Kate Baldwin) to small town Kentucky so he can bury a pot of gold that he stole from a leprechaun in the shadows of Fort Knox in the hopes that it will grow and multiply. The humorous leprechaun Og (Christopher Fitzgerald) comes after Finian to try to get his gold back before he is permanently transformed into a human. Throw in a mute girl who only communicates through dance, a love story between Sharon and a charismatic yokel (Cheyenne Jackson), and a wish gone awry that transforms a bigoted, white Southern senator into a black man, and hilarity ensues. Sort of.
So, those are the nuts and bolts behind Finian's Rainbow. It's an old school musical comedy that deals with some pretty heavy issues. I know that it was extremely groundbreaking when it first premiered, but I just don't know how relevant it is today. It hasn't been revived for so long, and there might just be a reason for that. While the story deals with some stuff that was probably pretty cutting edge in the forties, it lacks some of the punch it once had. I don't think that it's the actual issues Finian's Rainbow deals with that are dated; I know that there are still a lot of problems regarding race and class relations in this country and the current economic crisis is relevant in every American's mind, but I think the story could have been tweaked to make it resonate with a modern audience in the same manner of the original production, which ran for 725 performances.
Now, I didn't hate the show, I just didn't love it as much as everyone else seems to. Can I appreciate it? Yes. I'm just not going to rave about it. The dancing is good, although it isn't going to blow your mind. The performances are pretty good as well. There are a bevy of Broadway veterans. Fitzgerald (Young Frankenstein) is utterly charming as the mischievous leprechaun. Rising Broadway star and newest 30 Rock cast member Cheyenne Jackson (Xanadu), croons his heart out. But I was most excited to discover two gifted character actors (who made notable television appearances in the 90s) give solid supporting performances. David Schramm, who appeared as Roy Baggins on Wings, is perfectly detestable as the racist Senator Rawkins. Brian Reddy plays the sinister sheriff who does his bidding and although he is an accomplished Broadway performer, in my mind he will always be "The High Talker" on a classic episode of one of the greatest television programs of all time, Seinfeld.
If you are a fan of lavish, romantic, classic musical comedy, then you should probably go and see Fininan's Rainbow. If you have the soundtrack of Next to Normal on constant repeat on your iPod, then you might not flip over this show. That being said, I am fan of classic musicals, and sort felt indifferent about this production. I didn't have a bad time. I smiled. I didn't hate my life, but I didn't love it either. I can't really say anything bad about any specific part of the production, but maybe I was just expecting more. Everyone there seemed to really love it, however I should note that the median age of an audience member on the particular performance I saw was probably 55. The show has a nostalgic feel and is just some good clean fun with pretty music and nice dancing, which appeals to that particular audience group. Personally, if I'm paying $120 a ticket I want a little more, but I know a lot of people will be thoroughly satisfied. If your parents or grandparents are coming to town, Finian's Rainbow would be a safe bet and everyone will have a good time. Will they be blown away? Probably not, but I think you will all leave the theatre happy.
(Finian's Rainbow plays at the St. James Theatre, 246 West 44th Street. Performances are Tuesday through Thursday at 7pm, Friday and Saturday at 8pm, Wednesday and Saturday at 2pm, and Sunday at 3pm. The show runs about two hours and twenty minutes, which includes a fifteen minute intermission. Tickets are $50-$120. Special Wednesday evening pricing is as low as $25. For tickets visit www.telecharge.com or call 212-239-6200. Visit www.FiniansOnBroadway.com for more information)