BWW Review: FINIAN'S RAINBOW at Spinning Tree Theatre
From Spinning Tree Theatre at the Just Off Broadway Theatre facility comes a credible and updated production of 1947's Finian's Rainbow. This version, redesigned by the Irish Repertory Theatre in 2004, scales back what was a big and very topical 1947 Broadway extravaganza into an intimate show experience while retaining the original humor, much of the storyline, and the classic B-way musical score.
Finian McLonergan (Phil Fiorini) is your stereotypical Irish dreamer. He is forever chasing his crock of gold; the end of his rainbow. Using unassailable logic, he has determined that the land adjacent to the U.S. Gold Depository at Fort Knox must be fertile ground for the growing of a bumper crop of gold bullion. It is his plan to acquire a bit of this land and seed it with gold he has temporarily borrowed from an leprechaun named Og (Michael DeCoursey). In six months, he will harvest the new gold grown from the gold farm near Ft. Knox and return Og's crock. No harm. No foul.
Finian and his lovely daughter Sharon (Elise Poehling) have skedaddled from their home in Ireland and landed at Missitucky- near Ft. Knox. Sharon is unaware of her father's questionable logic. She is also unaware that the elf from whom the gold crock has been purloined is in hot pursuit and I mean hot. It seems that if a leprechaun loses his crock for any period of time, he risks losing his immortality and worse yet he becomes insatiably horny. OK, you got all that? The magic crock has three wishes attached to it. Anyone standing close to the darn thing can exercise the wishes.
Playwights Yip Harburg and Fred Saidy were actually out to make a number of social points all using stereotypes which are kind of inappropriate in 2017. Missitucky is an old South panache of all that is today objectionable. The main crop is tobacco. Their local legislator, Senator Billboard Rawkins (Nathan Dale Short) is a cartoon racist of the first order. He has determined to steal all the land from the local sharecroppers and the land's disabled mute owner, a pretty dancer appropriately named Susan the Silent Mahoney (Siena Radice) by use of a tax ruse.
Harburg and Saidy chose really broad humor and a bunch of pretty unforgivable stereotypes (at least in 2017) to make their points. These were all well intended and maybe even strike some resonance considering our current political atmosphere, but they are now more than a little politically incorrect.
Susan's brother Woody (Joseph Carr) returns to town in order to save the day. Woody immediately falls for Sharon. Og falls for anyone who is available at the moment. Sharon is repulsed by Senator Rawkins and tells him off. While unknowingly standing near the crock, she wishes he was a black man. Sure enough, it happens.
Sharon is charged with being a witch and is threatened with an old fashioned witch burning at the crack of dawn if she cannot turn the Senator back white. I won't ruin the ending for you.
Yarburg and his musical partner in crime Burton Lane have created a classic Broadway score that mostly holds up after 70 years. Among the familiar tunes are "How Are Things In Glocca Morra?," "Old Devil Moon," "Look to the Rainbow," and "On That Great Come and Get It Day." There are also several humorous novelty numbers including the still funny "When I'm Not Near The Girl I Love," and the racy (at the time) "The Begat" which seems a little silly now.
The cast does a good job vocally. The whimsical quality to the whole evening remains a pleasant way to spend an early fall evening. It is worth enjoying. Director Michael Grayson-Parkhurst has done a nice job of bringing back the fun and avoiding the possible potholes.
"Finian's Rainbow" continues at the Just Off Broadway Theatre through September 17. Tickets are available online at www.spinningtreetheatre.com or by telephone at (816) 235-6222.
Photo by J. Robert Schraeder/Spinning Tree Theatre.