Finian’s Rainbow opened on Broadway on January 17, 1947, and ran for 725 performances. For aficionados of Broadway musicals, the original cast album with Ella Logan and David Wayne is something to be cherished. Why, you may ask? Not only does it feature such standards as “How are Things in Glocca Morra,” “Look To The Rainbow,” and “When I’m Not Near The Girl I Love,” but the show is also very seldom done — it hasn’t had a Broadway revival, although there was a fairly recent production Off-Broadway.
Why isn’t the show done? you may further ask. Well, it takes place in the Deep South, and the antagonist is turned into a black man. But thinking of the piece as racist is just not fair, and far from the truth. The creators, Yip Harburg and Burton Lane, were human rights advocates. By this magical act of transformation, they were able to point up the blind stupidity and basic unfairness of racist views.
The Musical Theatre Guild has staged a lovely revival, so the audience gets to see for itself. The book is charming and witty, and the funniest bits are those regarding the transformation. The antagonist, Senator Billboard Rollins (excellently played by S. Marc Jordon), actually learns to enjoy being black, and sings “The Beget,” a spiritual, with the all-black "Gospeleers". This is a highlight, along with “Necessity,” sung by the black ensemble members (Meloney Collins, Carly Turner, and Natalie Wachen). Their performance brings down the house, and even has a built-in encore.
Damon Kirsche was a strong Woody, though he tended to over-sing the role. Richard Israel was a cute Og the Leprechaun. Reece Holland was a delightful Finian, although he played it more like Og. Maura Knowles, playing Finian’s daughter Sharon, got to sing most of the best songs.
A bit of a puzzlement was why the director, Gary Gordon, decided to rewrite the script to add a narrator and some adorable moppets at the side of the stage. Paul Keith and the kids were indeed adorable but I don’t think it was necessary. I would have preferred they let the musical stand alone. Perhaps this addition was to accommodate Union rules that the presentation must be a staged reading and free of scenery, props, etc.
In the past the Musical Theatre Guild has gone much further in its stagings, but I am sure that heading back in the direction of a staged reading made it easier on everyone in this case, seeing that they had only 25 hours to get the show up and running.
Musical Theatre Guild performed Finian’s Rainbow on Feb. 23 at Glendale’s Alex Theatre. There is one more performance scheduled for March 1 at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza.