“Wanna cry, wanna croon,
wanna laugh like a loon”
Suspension of disbelief is par for the course with musical theatre, especially the type of obscure revivals that the Union Theatre specialises in, and Finian’s Rainbow is no exception in that respect. A leprechaun who is slowly turning into a human, a twinkle-eyed Irishman determined to grow a forest of gold, a mute girl who communicates solely through the medium of dance…this is unabashed hokum of the top order, but the sincerity of Phil Willmott’s sterling production makes it a genuine delight.
For what it’s worth, the plot concerns the twinkle-eyed Irishman Finian McLonegan’s efforts to make his fortune in the Deep South having borrowed a crock of gold from a leprechaun and marry off his granddaughter Sharon in the process. The community of tobacco pickers where they end up welcome them and their money with open arms but a corrupt and racist senator has other plans for the land on which they toil, putting their future in peril. E.Y. Harburg and Fred Saidy’s book contains much more dry humour than you might expect though, jabs about immigration and bankers showing how little things have changed in many respects.
A considerable cast of 23 fill the stage with great enthusiasm and a straight bat – no knowing post-modern approaches here – which forefronts the show’s shining strength, Burton Lane’s music accompanied by Harburg’s lyrics. Such classics as ‘How Are Things in Glocca Morra?’, ‘Old Devil Moon’ and ‘Look To The Rainbow’ are beautifully rendered by Richard Baker’s band, sung gloriously by the company and enhanced by the vibrant choreography of Thomas Michael Voss’ which even gives the older members of the cast a fair crack of the whip.
Everywhere one looks is something lovely behold, whether Christina Bennington’s flame-haired but sweet-voiced heroine, James Horne’s avuncular warmth, Anne Odeke’s whip-sharp humour (the Gone With The Wind line is a cracker), Chris Kayson’s truly graceful movement and David Malcolm’s expressively tuneful voice (and killer dimples). It is silly to be sure and one has to be in the mood for it – this reviewer loved the leprechaun but found the mute girl a step too far – but if you let the considerable charms of this production just wash over you, there’s certainly gold to be found by the end of Finian’s Rainbow.