Review by Tulis McCall
29 Oct 2009
What are the chances, folks. Two (count ‘em) Broadway shows, musicals no less, featuring a racially integrated cast AND a character who is a mute?
Pretty darn good, I’d say. Pretty darn.
The musicals in question are Memphis and Finian’s Rainbow. In the former the mute is a man who is brought to speak when violence gets too close. In the latter, the mute is a sort of Tinkerbelle who dances her dialogue until she is wished into speech-a-fying by a leprechaun. Yep. That would be musicals.
Finian’s Raibow is the story of the best-dressed bunch of sharecroppers you ever did see. Their US Senator wants to buy them out because electricity is threatening to come to the valley and improve their lot, and he would like to do whatever it takes to stop it. Into this little valley arrive Finian McLonergan, (Jim Norton) with his daughter Sharon (Kate Baldwin) and their pot of gold, stolen recently from a leprechaun named Og (Christopher Fitzgerald). The pot of gold is going to stay in the ground, right near Fort Knox, until it reproduces itself a few times and makes the McLonergan family very rich indeed. That is Finian’s plan. Sharon’s plan is to turn around and head home. That is her plan until she meets the folk in the valley and a certain young man, Woody Mahoney (Cheyenne Jackson).
The total pleasure of this musical is, wait for it, the MUSIC, because it is so familiar to those of us over 40, thanks to Frank Sinatra and Old Devil Moon. There are a lot of “us” in the audience – especially at a Wednesday Matinee where people would just as soon poke you in eye as let you cut across the line to pick up your ticket. These are also the same people who narrate the show as they remember one song after another, or are surprised at a bit of sleight of hand, or notice the dancers’ drawers, which came in a variety of colors.
Back to the songs. Yip Harburg (Lyricist for The Wizard of Oz) and Burton Lane have created music that just makes you feel good, makes you feel a little silly, in fact. The story is hokey beyond imagining, though, which makes you feel sort of not so very good. Not Bad, just not as good as the music makes you feel.
All the technical bits work. The orchestra is under the excellent direction of Rob Berman, who is actually wearing a tux and loves what he is doing. Kate Baldwin’s voice is spring water clear, and Terri White’s voice is directly connected to the center of the planet. The vocal arrangements are robust, and the chorography tempered to handle the very athletic down to the mildly rhythmic. Sharon and Woody’s romance really seems to be romantic. The people in back of me loved his eyes and her wedding gown. Everyone is having a good time up there. There is even a rainbow.
But the only bits of the show that got me belonged to Finian. When Jim Norton is onstage, he is all you want to watch, no matter what he is doing – handing out doses of blarney, singing, dancing or cogitating. His is the dream of making other’s dreams come true. First he wants his daughter happy, and when she is all tucked into her dream, he leaves to find another place to plant a dream under the rainbow beyond the rainbow – which is, after all, Finian’s. His is the lot of the itinerant dream catcher. Something a little heart-dinging in that.
Everyone who sat near me was thinking about coming back with a friend or a husband, and butts in seats are always a good thing. Finian’s Rainbow is a spoonful of sweet in your tea when the weather’s coming on cold. Some people like that just fine. Me? I’d rather a shot of whiskey. Irish, of course.
CHARLES ISHERWOOD for NEW YORK TIMES says, "Thoroughly winning production, a welcome picker-upper in an uneven Broadway season."
JOE DZIEMIANOWICZ for NEW YORK DAILY NEWS says, "Hits the mark."
ELISABETH VINCENTELLI for NEW YORK POST says, "Whether you think this particularly whimsical crock is half-empty or half-full, the songs are pure heaven."
JOHN SIMON for BLOOMBERG says, "It is, above all, good."
ELYSA GARDNER for USA TODAY says, "Enchanting revival"
LINDA WINER for NEWSDAY says, "Gentle, modestly produced revival"
ERIK HAAGENSEN for BACK STAGE says, "I hope it runs forever"
ROBERT FELDBERG for THE RECORD says, "There's not a moment when you wonder, or care, about what happens next. Except that you yearn for the next musical number."
MICHAEL KUCHWARA for ASSOCIATED PRESS says, "A special kind of stage magic."
FRANK SCHECK for HOLLYWOOD REPORTER says, "A theatrical pot of gold "
DAVID ROONEY for VARIETY says, "An infectious charmer"