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Finian's Rainbow
Photograph: Carol Rosegg

Theater review: Finian's Rainbow has the luck of the Irish

Written by
Raven Snook

It can't be a coincidence that the last time Irish Rep shared its scaled-down revival of this tuneful Burton Lane–Yip Harburg musical in 2004, it was also an election year. Though written in 1947, this fairy tale-romance-cum-social satire touches on still-relevant issues such as racism, income inequality, shady politicians and predatory lending.

Not that you go to Finian's Rainbow for its narrative. After all, one generation's progressivism seems quaint (or, worse, backward) to its descendants. Plotwise, it's sentimental blarney about an old Irishman named Finian (spry sexagenarian Ken Jennings—the original Tobias in Sweeney Todd!) and his daughter, Sharon (Tony nominee Melissa Errico reprising her 2004 turn and still managing to pass as an ingénue) immigrating to the mythical Missitucky in the Jim Crow South with a stolen pot of gold—and its rightful Leprechaun owner, Og (Mark Evans), in hot pursuit. After misunderstandings, accusations of witchcraft and some magic, they find love and prosperity in their new homeland while teaching a racist Senator (Dewey Caddell) a thing or two about tolerance.

Even if that description makes you gag, the glorious songs—which make up most of the two-hour run time thanks to director Charlotte Moore's judicious book cuts—should win you over. Backed by a four-piece, string-heavy band (piano, harp, cello, and fiddle), the 13 unamplified cast members are in superb voice throughout. It's hard to pick highlights, but Angela Grovey raises the roof with her bluesy scatting in "Necessity" and, as last-chance lovebirds Sharon and Woody, Errico's lilting soprano and Ryan Silverman's rousing baritone soar on standards like "Old Devil Moon" and "If This Isn't Love." Truly, no number is a dud.

There's no denying that this is a modest mounting due to the company's budget and small stage; those who saw the short-lived 2009 Broadway revival may miss the large ensemble and full orchestra. And yet, this seems to be the ideal way to experience Finian's ample charms. Sure it's dated. No, not everything about the story works (though key to the action, the good ol' boy Senator's magical transformation into a black man is cringe-worthy). But somehow, in the intimacy of the Irish Rep, those problems evaporate like mist, revealing a "grandish" Rainbow.

Irish Repertory Theatre (Off Broadway). Music by Burton Lane. Lyrics by E.Y. Harburg. Book by Harburg and Fred Saidy. Directed by Charlotte Moore. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs. One intermission. Through Dec 18. Click here for full ticket and venue information.

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