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NY Theater Reviews

Kate Baldwin and Alina Faye/Ph: Joan Marcus

RIGHT FOR THE TIMES

By ROGER B. HARRIS

Encores! Finian's Rainbow is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

 

Musical comedy devotees know all about Finian's Rainbow, that somewhat strange, but bursting with great songs musical of 1947. When it premiered at the 46th Street Theatre ( now the Richard Rodgers) in January of that year, people didn't know what to make of a production that had a dollop of fantasy and a whole lot of social significance to go with its mouthwatering songs and snappy dance numbers. What can you possibly call a show that revolves around a leprechaun, a stolen crock of gold, starry eyed lovers, a conniving father, a bigoted Southern Senator mysteriously turned black ( I told you there was fantasy involved) -all taking place in a locale called Rainbow Valley in the mischieveously named state of Missitucky. But Burton Lane, E Y Harburg and Fred Saidy were on to something: The show ran for 725 performances , closing in October of 1948.

Now City Center Encores! has revived the show. And right off the bat, director (and choreographer) Warren Carlyle has made a wise choice: He has refused to sugarcoat the politically incorrect aspects of the tale. Instead, he has made them over-the-top funny. Thus, the teaching of the correct way to serve a mint julep in all its shuffling grotesqueries( circa 1947) has a payoff that's strictly today.

Holding the show together is Jim Norton as Finian. True, he's the stereotypical Irish drinker, con man. But there's a tenderness to him when it comes to his daughter Sharon (Kate Baldwin) that belies all the other facets of his existence. And at the end of the show, when Finian takes his leave and heads out for the open road to find his next rainbow, there's a genuine sense of loss and a bit of melancholy that comes over the audience.

Ms. Baldwwin is quite a find. Her beautiful soprano makes "How are Things in Glocca Morra?" more poignant than it has ever been. And "Old Devil Moon," her duet with her leading man Cheyenne Jackson, playing Woody Mahoney, is sexy and down to earth-just right.

And what of Mr. Jackson, who recently graced the stage in Xanadu? He projects an easy affability and a coolness under fire. Not the greatest of dancers though, as he clumps around the stage on a number of occasions.

Then, there's Og, the leprechaun,deftly played by Jeremy Bobb. He has a major problem: He's becoming more a mortal every day-blame that on that missing crock of gold. And he has a terrible habit of falling in love with the girl he's next to , as he bemoans "When I'm Not Near the Girl I Love."

And one can't fail to mention Philip Bosco as Senator Billboard Rawkins, the epitome of a certain type of regional Senator of a bygone day. He's plays the role with the right amount of bluster and pomposity. Ruben Santiago-Hudson plays the racially changed Rawkins with great aplomb.

Encores! productions by their very nature are concert versions of shows with actors usually glancing down at their scripts. In this production, there was very little of that going on. Sort of like a full scale production, you could say. In this case, one could only wish this was so.