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'Finian's Rainbow' Arcs Over Broadway Again
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'Finian's Rainbow' Arcs Over Broadway Again

Theater

'Finian's Rainbow' Arcs Over Broadway Again

'Finian's Rainbow' Arcs Over Broadway Again
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Alina Faye and Christopher Fitzgerald in 'Finian's Rainbow' i

Odd Couple: In the musical Finian's Rainbow, being revived on Broadway for the first time since its original 1947 run, an unlikely romance develops between a leprechaun named Og (Christopher Fitzgerald) and a Southern girl (Alina Faye) known as Susan the Silent. Joan Marcus/St. James Theatre hide caption

toggle caption Joan Marcus/St. James Theatre
Alina Faye and Christopher Fitzgerald in 'Finian's Rainbow'

Odd Couple: In the musical Finian's Rainbow, being revived on Broadway for the first time since its original 1947 run, an unlikely romance develops between a leprechaun named Og (Christopher Fitzgerald) and a Southern girl (Alina Faye) known as Susan the Silent.

Joan Marcus/St. James Theatre

It's been 60-odd years in the making, but the boundary-pushing musical Finian's Rainbow is getting a full-scale revival on Broadway. Connoisseurs say the timing couldn't be better: The story is a mix of romance and political satire, with themes of bigotry, immigration and economic greed.

And a leprechaun.

Originally produced in 1947 — with music by Burton Lane and impossibly intricate lyrics by Wizard of Oz songwriter E.Y. "Yip" Harburg — Finian's Rainbow is a complex musical to stage. It has a huge cast, and the score calls for a large orchestra. And the plot poses problems that have tripped producers up in years past.

But the songs are durable crowd-pleasers — "Old Devil Moon" and "How are Things in Glocca Morra" are among the show's standards — and the story is a kind of socially conscious Brigadoon set in the American South.

Superficially, it's about the title character and his daughter Sharon, who leave Ireland — Finian has stolen a pot of gold from a leprechaun — and settle in Rainbow Valley, a town in the fictional (and hilariously named) state of Missitucky that's populated by a mix of black and white sharecroppers.

The leprechaun, who is slowly becoming human and will stay that way if he can't get his gold back, gives chase, and all kinds of trouble ensues. There's a credit crisis, for one thing. And a racist U.S. senator accidentally gets turned into a black man.

And some of the songs are screamingly funny. Christopher Fitzgerald plays Og the leprechaun, who finds himself becoming more and more human as the show goes along, eventually falling for a local Rainbow Valley girl. Fitzgerald says the songs' rhymes — such as these, from "When I'm Not Near the Girl I Love" — can be immensely satisfying to sell to a Broadway audience: "As I am more and more a mortal/I am more and more a case/when I am not facing the face that I fancy/I fancy the face I face."

"I imagine that being a leprechaun is kind of sterile," Fitzgerald says. "He has not felt love; he has one task, which is to keep that gold. It's almost like an adolescent who has a lot of bravado but hasn't really discovered girls yet."

Dodging A Danger From A Different Time

The story, in other words, mingles the serious and the silly, the real and the unreal. But Harburg had enough experience in that territory to know how to make the combination work.

'Finian's Rainbow' lyricist Yip Harburg i

After sharing an Oscar for The Wizard of Oz's "Over The Rainbow," lyricist Yip Harburg spent much of the '40s writing stage musicals with strong socio-political messages. Finian's Rainbow touches on race, class, political corruption and other enduring issues. Yip Harburg Estate hide caption

toggle caption Yip Harburg Estate
'Finian's Rainbow' lyricist Yip Harburg

After sharing an Oscar for The Wizard of Oz's "Over The Rainbow," lyricist Yip Harburg spent much of the '40s writing stage musicals with strong socio-political messages. Finian's Rainbow touches on race, class, political corruption and other enduring issues.

Yip Harburg Estate

Says producer David Richenthal: "If someone who didn't know anything about The Wizard of Oz was told, 'There's going to be a scarecrow and a lion and a tin man and, incidentally, these are real people,' you would say, 'This is a joke, isn't it?' "

In both Finian's Rainbow and The Wizard of Oz, the real and unreal ended up working pretty well together. But Finian's Rainbow had one problem Oz didn't: that senator. In the original production, the actor playing him wore blackface after his magical transformation. The NAACP and others were not entertained.

"A lot of people were under the impression that the show was in favor of racism," Richenthal says. "There has been a terrible and bizarre misunderstanding about the politics underlying Finian's Rainbow."

In this production, two different actors — one black, one white — play the part. Arthur Perlman, who has updated the show's book scenes, says that change and the revival's timing should help it make a different impression.

"Part of the problem in producing Finian is, the times never quite seemed to coincide with the material," Perlman says. Today, the musical's economic themes — the perils of easy credit are among them — seem suddenly more relevant.

But that shouldn't be too much of a surprise: Harburg had plenty of experience with that sort of thing, too. He may be better known as the lyricist for the immortal Oz ballad "Over the Rainbow," but he's also the guy who wrote "Brother Can You Spare a Dime."

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