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NY Theater Reviews

Christopher Borger, Alina Faye and William Youmans/ Ph: Joan Marcus

DO YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC?

By MERVYN ROTHSTEIN

This revived musical sparkles and glistens with the same magic it had 60 years ago, if not more.

Things are swell in Glocca Morra.
 
As the curtain came down at the St. James Theater after Act Two of the new Broadway revival of Finian’s Rainbow, one audience member turned to a friend and said, “It’s a cliché, but they don’t make them like they used to.”
 
Indeed. The musical, a hit in 1947, is, 62 years later, a delight. The joyous songs by Burton Lane and E.Y. (Yip) HarburgHow 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.
 
And the libretto’s tall tale (by Harburg and Fred Saidy), a societal morality tale that is also full of humor and fantasy — yet surprisingly has long been regarded as creaky — adds to the pleasure. Its paean for racial equality was bold for its day, and while so much progress has been made since those troubled years, who would deny that, even with Barack Obama as president, it remains germane today?
 
In a recent interview with Playbill, Carlyle said that “the old, wonky, dusty script” offers “opportunities for magic.” And he has latched on to those opportunities.
 
This production received critical and audience plaudits when it was revived last spring, with much of the same cast, in City Center’s Encores! series — which is why it moved to Broadway. We should all be glad it has.
 
Finian McLonergan – played by a twinkly, charming and energetic Norton (a Tony winner last year for The Seafarer) – enters Rainbow Valley, a tobacco-growing farm area in the imaginary state of Missitucky, accompanied by his daughter, Sharon (a radiant Baldwin). McLonergan, a native of Ireland, brings with him a crock of gold he has conveniently “borrowed” from a leprechaun named Og (Fitzgerald), also a native of the old country. The crock of gold facilitates the granting of three wishes.
 
Sharon meets and falls in love with Woody, a local landowner (Jackson).  We are in the 1947 South, and Finian and Sharon run into a bigoted white senator (David Schramm), who warns that festering radicalism is upon us, praises the art of the filibuster and the “sweet tranquility of the status quo” and wants us to march “forward to yesterday.” Soon, courtesy of one wish, he will be turned black (and be portrayed by a rousing Chuck Cooper) — until Og ensures that he learns to see things from all sides and promote racial harmony.
 
Baldwin (The Full Monty, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Wonderful Town) attains near-star status. Her expressively crystalline voice triumphs with its aching wistfulness in Glocca Morra and Look to the Rainbow and combines innocence and sensuality in Old Devil Moon. 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.
 
Speaking of which, Fitzgerald is understatedly funny as Og, who, minus his gold, frets that he is slowly turning human. His every facial expression and body movement engenders a smile, a laugh or a whoop. Terri White, an African-American resident of Rainbow Valley, nails Necessity, the show’s ode to what we need to do to survive. Alina Faye dances sweetly as Susan the Silent, who cannot talk and expresses herself only via choreography – and who, through the vehicle of love, persuades Og that being human isn’t such a bad thing after all.