Writer: E. Y. Harburg &Fred Saidy
Lyricist: E. Y. Harburg
Composer: Burton Lane
Director: Phil Wilmot
Reviewer: Tom Finch
Finian’s Rainbow, a musical from the golden age of Broadway has not been revived in London since it first opened here in 1947. In some ways it’s easy to see why; the bizarre plot makes about as much sense as a show revolving around a frisky leprechaun probably should do and there are more than a few racial overtones which feel a little uncomfortable to a modern audience. Sadly this has meant the show’s score which is full of joyful, upbeat numbers has been criminally overlooked.
The show takes place on a struggling, dusty tobacco plantation somewhere in the deep south, under threat a corrupt, bigoted senator who is threatening to turf everyone off the land for his own means. Things are shaken up when Finian McLonegan, an Irish immigrant, arrives with his granddaughter Sharon and a stolen crock of gold. Unbeknownst to them they are being hounded by the gold’s owner, a leprechaun named Og who without his magic gold is slowly becoming mortal. Of course people soon start falling in love and the magic gold causes plenty of havoc and misunderstandings but a happy ending wins out.
E. Y. Harburg &Fred Saidy’s book is unashamedly saccharine but much of it does feel particularly pertinent. Race, immigration and capitalism all get a good satirical examination. “My family’s had trouble with immigrants ever since we arrived here” is an example of one of the clever lines peppered among the fantastical script.
The show could easily fall into becoming annoying flippant but director Phil Wilmot has assembled a great cast who really give it their all and seem to be enjoying their whimsical story. Their enthusiasm, skill and infectious energy could win over the most cynical of modern day audience members. Special mentions go to Anne Odeke’s whose powerhouse vocals bring the house down during the showstopper Necessity. James Horne is a delight at Finian and Christina Bennington steals the show with her beautiful voice in her numerous solos.
This is not high brow, sophisticated entertainment but it’s hard not to be swept away by the sheer fun and the exuberance of it all. After 60 odd years this is a welcome revival and it deserves to find an audience.
Runs until 10th May