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Review: ‘Finian’s Rainbow’ at Live Arts Maryland

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When Finian’s Rainbow opened on Broadway in 1947, it was a scandal. White and black performers shared the same stage, it argued that blacks were full citizens (with rights!), and that whites and blacks could be friends. These happenings are not so scandalous today. However, the subtler political messages about property rights, government over-reach, racial and religious profiling, proper uses of credit, and bodily autonomy are especially pertinent in this year, a particularly charged election year.

Finian sings "Look to the Rainbow" reprise. Left to right, Woody (Matt Gibson), Sharon (Kimberly Christie), Finian (Tom Magette), Susan (Elysia Greene Merrill), and Og (Jason Buckwalter. Photo by Rick Hammerly.

Finian sings “Look to the Rainbow” reprise. Left to right, Woody (Matt Gibson), Sharon (Kimberly Christie), Finian (Tom Magette), Susan (Elysia Greene Merrill), and Og (Jason Buckwalter. Photo by Rick Hammerly.

Finian’s Rainbow, with Book by E.Y. Harburg and Fred Saidy, lyrics by Harburg, and music by Burton Lane, is the story of a man, Finian McLonergan (Tom Magette), and his daughter, Sharon McLonergan (Kimberly Christie), who move to America from Ireland in search of a better life. They settle in Rainbow Valley in the fictional state of Missitucky near the real Fort Knox. Unbeknownst to them, Sharon and Finian McLonergan have been followed by a leprechaun named Og (Jason Buckwalter), who desperately wants to retrieve the pot of gold that Finian has stolen from him. Immediately upon running into town; they get on the wrong side of a corrupt senator, Billboard Rawkins, (the very mean and coniving Duncan Hood) and his crony, Buzz Collins (Erik Alexis). Of course, hijinks ensue and valuable lessons are learned. In the fashion of Shakespearean comedies, there is a wedding.

Performed as part of Live Arts Maryland’s ‘Broadway in Annapolis’ series, Finian’s Rainbow was beautifully directed, performed, and sung. Ray Landrum, an Annapolis Chorale member, was wry and dry as the Narrator and gave the whole performance the air of a half-forgotten fairy tale told to you as a very young child. He had many of the best lines in the play and Landrum received many of the biggest laughs. Finian (Tom Magette), Sharon (Kimberly Christie), and Og (Jason Buckwalter) all had convincing Irish accents without being too St. Patrick’s Day-ish about it.

Elysia Greene Merrill was fantastic as Susan Mahoney, a mute, who communicates by dancing. Merrill did double-duty as the choreographer and principal dancer.

This musical is full of many perky tunes and hauntingly beautiful melodies. Early in the musical Sharon (Kimberly Christie), gorgeously performed “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?,” a wistful number full of longing for the home in Ireland she has recently left. Kimberly Christie also opened the second act with “When the Idle Poor Become the Idle Rich” an up-beat song about the joys of having credit and spending. This song could be the anthem of the recent economic crisis and it is catchy, as well.

The Gopspeleers in rehearsal: L to R: John E. Lucas, James Alexander, Bernard Dotson, and Trent Armand Kendall. Photo by Rick Hammerly.

The Gospeleers in rehearsal: L to R: John E. Lucas, James Alexander, Bernard Dotson, and Trent Armand Kendall. Photo by Rick Hammerly.

The Gospeleers (James Alexander, Bernard Dotson, and John E. Lucas) and the transfigured Senator Rawkins (Trent Armand Kendall) performed the show-stopping number “The Begat.” The Gospeleers were underutilized in the show for how talented they were, and I wish they would have had at least one more song. One thing was certain: these guys really knew how to wear a suit!

Og the Leprechaun (the very charming and hilarious Jason Buckwalter) stopped the show with “When I’m Not Near the Girl I Love,” which also managed to be one of the funniest songs in the score, but any scene with Og in it was sure to be full of laughs.

Director Rick Hammerly.

Director Rick Hammerly.

Live Arts Maryland and the cast of Finian’s Rainbow was so fortunate to have Helen Hayes Award recipient Rick Hammerly at the helm. The production, despite it’s simple staging,was entrancing and enchanting, in no small part to Hammerly’s skillful direction. Another major contributor to the production’s large success was the work of Musical Director J. Ernest Green and two terrific pianists: Laurie Hays and Erik Apland, and their amazing page-turners.

The fun evening elicited laughs, gasps, and sighs. The biggest sigh was reserved for the fact that Finian’s Rainbow was only a two-day engagement.

Well, at least there’s always the 1968 film adaptation (directed by Francis Ford Coppola) and starring Fred Astaire and Petula Clark to watch on Netflix, or you can listen to the cast CD of the recent Broadway revival, and then hope that another major revival is in the works. But for this night, the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts was filled with the luck, humor, and charm of the Irish.

Running Time: Two hours, including one intermission.

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Finian’s Rainbow played on February 12th and 13, 2016 at Live Arts Maryland performing at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts – 801 Chase Street, in Annapolis, MD. For upcoming events, go to their website.

LINKS:
J. Ernest Green on Musical Directing and Conducting ‘Finian’s Rainbow’ for Live Arts Maryland on 2/12&13 by Joel Markowitz.

Live Arts Maryland “Finian’s Rainbow” on Friday, 2/12@7:30 PM & Sat 2/13 @3 and 8 PM.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1549.gif

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