The Irish Repertory Theatre has finished its renovations and is back at its home in Chelsea, which was reason enough to celebrate at their 28th Gala held June 13th at Town Hall. The tickets brought in $500,000 for their capital campaign, Charlotte Moore Artistic Director mentioned in her opening remarks. Charlotte Moore and Producing Director Ciarán O’Reilly (who told a great joke about “the nuns”), were on hand to thank their hard working Board of Directors and generous donors, sponsors, and contributors for helping them raise over $14 million dollars over a number of years.
The Irish Repertory Theatre has around $2 million more to raise. As one element of their fund raising, they are running an auction of cool items, including a trip to Ireland and two tickets to Hamilton. When I checked, the price for the Ham tickets was only $3000 for both, not bad considering the robots/ticket sellers have jacked up the tickets to $3000 for one ticket. Those thieves should be fined in the millions and the money returned to purchase Ham tickets for high school students around the country. But that’s another article.
Back to the Irish Repertory Theatre. I have seen the renovations of the theater which are smashing as is their first production starring Matthew Broderick in Shining City, a superb, must-see revival directed by Ciarán O’Reilly. Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker, long time friends and supporters were on hand to see Finian’s Rainbow in Concert Monday evening which the Irish Repertory Theatre had produced in the same version in 2004. Charlotte Moore mentioned that most of the 2004 cast were on hand, looking as youthful as ever and indeed, the Gala was an exceptional and memorable presentation because of their return.
Saoirse Ronan (two time Oscar nominated actress, currently on Broadway in The Crucible), hosted the evening. With her characteristic Irish accent she humorously discussed how the Irish Repertory Theatre was indirectly responsible for her Dad (also an actor), and herself “being here.” After additional tributes and remarks by Board Members and a dedication made to those who died in Orlando by Charlotte and Ciarán (made when they first came out on stage), the concert was underway.
Finian’s Rainbow if presented with attention to depth and humanity is a profound yet lighthearted musical whose themes resonate for all time. When it was originally performed on Broadway in 1947, it ran for two years. It has since been revived but not to its original lasting success. When the Irish Repertory Theatre presented it in 2004, it was well received because of the conceptualization of the musical in a concert adaptation by Charlotte Moore with beautiful performances by Melissa Errico, Malcolm Gets, Max Von Essen, and others. It was appropriately centered at a place where the production seemed most comfortable.
The fanciful and mythic story is set in a Jim Crow South. Farmers (sharecroppers), who have a hard scrabble life, are threatened with foreclosure by developers and a corrupt politician, unless they can come up with all the money they owe; what Woody came up with isn’t enough. Into this setting from Ireland arrive Sharon and Dad Finian, who has stolen a pot of gold from a leprechaun which he buries so it will grow (there’s a Biblical parable in there). Og follows them, desperate to recover his treasure before the loss of it turns him permanently human. Sharon and Woody fall in love and get married; Sharon makes a wish over the gold. The politician is changed into a black man; he is ostracized and his rights are removed. The leprechaun changes him on the inside making him a caring, loving person. When he is changed back to being white, he helps out the sharecroppers and changes the laws. Finian loses the gold; the leprechaun falls in love and becomes human. Finian moves on a wiser man. The “golden rule” of love is more valuable than real gold and that wisdom is at the end of the rainbow of every human heart if they find it.
For the 2016 Finian’s Rainbow in Concert (music by Burton Lane, Book by E.Y. Harburg and Fred Saidy, lyrics by E.Y. Harburg), actors returned to spread the joy; forgive me if I have left anyone out: Melissa Errico (Sharon), Malcolm Gets (Og), Jim Norton (Finian-Jim Norton appeared in the Broadway production of Finian’s Rainbow in 2009), Max von Essen (Woody), David Staller (Narrator/Robust) and Jonathan Hadley (Sheriff/Shears). Megan Fairchild (Susan the Silent), a principal dancer at the New York City Ballet and Angela Grovey (who brought down the house as Betty singing “Necessity”), rounded out the starring cast. Charlotte Moore adapted and directed the production. The musical direction was by John Bell and the choreography by Barry McNabb.
The evening was an absolute delight. The musical numbers that are stand-alones always thrill: “Old Devil Moon” (in a stunningly lyrical and resonant duet by Max von Essen and Melissa Errico), “When I’m Not near the Girl I love” (adorably acted/sung by Malcolm Gets), “Look to the Rainbow,” “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?” and rousing numbers like “The Begat,” “Necessity” and “That Great Come-and-Get-It-Day” were just great. Aided by the orchestra (Guy Davis’ harmonica solo was a standout), and the wonderful ensemble, Finian’s Rainbow in Concert distilled truths that we all need to be reminded of, especially in a season of troubled, sorrowing hearts.
Finian’s Rainbow in Concert was a thrilling send off for the Irish Repertory Theatre’s upcoming season. Shining City will finish on July 3rd. The season will continue in association with The Public Theater to present The Abbey Theatre’s production of Quietly, written by Owen McCafferty, directed by Jimmy Fay which runs from July 20 through September 11. Tickets to the productions and the raffle can be found online at the Irish Repertory Theatre website.