MELISSA BLOCK, host:

A revival of the musical �Finian's Rainbow� is opening tonight on Broadway. When it first came out in 1947, it was a huge hit. Since then, there have been occasional revivals, but this is the first, full-blown Broadway production. As NPR's Margot Adler reports, the show may resonate more now than it did in the past.

MARGOT ADLER: Most people don't know �Finian's Rainbow,� but they might know many of the songs, �Old Devil Moon,� �When I'm Not Near the Girl I Love,� and this tune:

(Soundbite of musical, �Finian's Rainbow�)

(Soundbite of song, �How Are Things in Glocca Morra�)

Unidentified Woman #1 (Actor): (As character) (Singing) How are things in Glocca Morra? Is that little brook still leaping there?

ADLER: Most people thing of the story as a kind of Brigadoon, if they think of it at all. Superficially, the story is about Finian and his daughter, who from Ireland to the American South, Finian having stolen a pot of gold from a leprechaun. They come to Rainbow Valley, a land of black and white sharecroppers. Terri White, who plays Dottie, sort of the unofficial mayor of Rainbow Valley, says she tells her friends:

Ms. TERRI WHITE: Well, it's about romance, bigotry, politics, work, and a leprechaun. And they go, okay. I think I'll have to go see the show.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ADLER: Remember, Yip Harburg, who wrote the lyrics, is the same guy who wrote all the songs to the �The Wizard of Oz.� Producer David Richenthal says like �The Wizard of Oz,� there's a unique blend of the real and the unreal.

Mr. DAVID RICHENTHAL (Producer, �Finian's Rainbow�): If someone who didn't know anything about �The Wizard of Oz� was told, well, there is going to be a scarecrow, and there's going to be a lion and a tin man and, incidentally, these are real people, you would say, well, this is a joke, isn't it?

ADLER: The musical has a large cast, it's difficult to stage, and it had a problem. In the past, a white, bigoted senator is magically transformed into a black man, something that organizations like the NAACP got very upset with because most performances, says Richenthal, used blackface to make that transformation.

Mr. RICHENTHAL: A lot of people were under the impression that the show was in favor of racism because they said, how can they use blackface? So there has been a terrible and very bizarre misunderstanding about the politics underlying �Finian's Rainbow."

ADLER: In this production, they use two different actors. Arthur Perlman updated the book for the show and feels the time is right for this new production.

Mr. ARTHUR PERLMAN (Writer): Part of the problem with producing �Finian� is the times never quite seem to coincide with the material.

ADLER: But now, he says, with the economy the way it is, the musical, which deals with rich and poor and the pitfalls of easy credit, is more relevant. Here's Jim Norton as Finian.

(Soundbite of Musical, �Finian's Rainbow�)

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JIM NORTON (Actor): (As Finian) (Singing) Won't it be rich, when everyone's poor relative becomes a Rockefellative and pans no longer itch. What a switch.

Unidentified People (Actors): (As characters) (Singing) When we all have Ermine and have plastic teeth. How will we determine who's who underneath?

Unidentified Men (Actors): (As characters) (Singing) And when all your neighbors are upper class�

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) (Singing) You won't know your Georges from your Astors.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ADLER: The funniest performance is that of Christopher Fitzgerald, who plays a leprechaun who finds himself becoming more and more human. Fitzgerald says this about the familiar and show-stopping song, �When I'm Not Near the Girl I Love.�

Mr. CHRISTOPHER FITZGERALD (Actor): The rhymes are just so satisfying to sing and to�

ADLER: What is that line about, the one about mortal.

Mr. FITZGERALD: (Singing) As I'm more and more a mortal, I am more and more a case.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FITZGERALD: Like we all are.

(Soundbite of song, �When I'm Not Near the Girl I Love�)

Mr. FITZGERALD: (Singing) As I'm more and more a mortal, I am more and more a case. When I'm not facing the face that I fancy, I fancy the face I face.

Mr. FITZGERALD: And I think the show is about becoming human. I imagine that being a leprechaun is kind of maybe sterile. It's like, you know, he's not felt love. You know, 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.

ADLER: Producer David Richenthal says he's always been drawn to the musical's other big theme.

Mr. RICHENTHAL: The key to personal happiness is to follow your dream. And the song �Follow the Fellow Who Follows His Dream� has been something that has moved me since childhood.

(Soundbite of musical, �Finian's Rainbow�)

(Soundbite of song, �Follow the Fellow Who Follows His Dream�)

Unidentified People (Actors): (As characters) (Singing) Follow the fellow who follows his dream.

ADLER: Perhaps it's not surprising that the lyrics to �Finian's Rainbow� were written by the same man who wrote �Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?� and �Over the Rainbow.� Mix them together, and you get something like �Finian's Rainbow.�

Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.

(Soundbite of music)

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

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