Over and above enchanting music and a fantasy love story, this 1947 musical features corrupt politicians, vast economic disparity, blatant racial bigotry, and hope for the future, borrowing a premise from another story whose rainbow is pivotal. Need you ask why now?
How does it hold up? Well, songs are still swell, though somewhat thinner due to a small cast , the two attitudes/subjects remain strange bedfellows, and the piece has been so condensed that its romance proceeds with enough speed to give you whiplash.
Ken Jennings and Melissa Errico; Ryan Silverman and Melissa Errico
This is not so say Rainbow Valley, Missatucky (Mississippi and Kentucky) is not an entertaining place to visit. (Whimsy later includes the Shears-Robust catalog.) James Morgan’s charming set, dripping with foliage, flowers, song scores, and storybook sentiment, creates an immediate aura of illuminated make-believe. By the time the small band, replete with lovely harp, begins its mini overture, we’ve settled in with pleasant expectation.
The tobacco growing valley is occupied by black and white denizens who get along just fine, thanks. Because of a proposed dam raising property values, Senator Rawkins (Dewey Waddell – terrific accent and bluster) has sent his right hand man Buzz (Matt Gibson) and the local Sheriff (Peyton Crim) to seize the land from owner and occupants through successive nefarious citations. Our hero, Woody (Ryan Silverman – clean cut presence with an engaging baritone), is determined not to let this happen.
Rawkins is an out and out bigot, neither immigrants nor blacks escape southern condemnation. When Sharon challenges him with The Constitution, the Senator responds,”I haven’t had a chance to read it. I’m too busy defending it.”
Arriving at a critical juncture, ostensibly from Ireland, are Sharon (Melissa Errico, whose lovely trill first buoyed the role a dozen years ago) and her pixilated father Finian (Ken Jennings). Finian carries a carpet bag with a stolen crock of gold he buries, believing proximity to Ft. Knox will make it grow. A Leprechaun named Og, the crock’s rightful owner, has followed them to America. (Dancer Mark Evens-too tall and completely unsympathetic.) Og is becoming more human every day, suddenly pining after every woman he sees.
Unaware she’s standing near the gold, Sharon wishes the Senator was black (so that that he’d experience prejudice). Apparently the crock is invested with three wishes. Horrified, at the color of his skin (and all it implies), Rawkins runs away…returning later to be changed again twice, once internally, once externally. The order of these is particularly important. Word gets out there’s gold in the hills which causes a Rube Goldberg effect of assumptions, solving things. Of course. The company is solid. Solos by Angela Grovey and Kimberly Doreen Burns stand out.
Lyrica Woodruff and The Company
To my mind, the find of the evening is Lyrica Woodruff (Susan the Silent). The performer is utterly captivating. Expressions are innocent, animated, and appropriate. She dances like a dream. Unfortunately, the production saw fit to make her up (the only red lips on the stage) and outfit her like a ballerina in The Nutcracker instead of as a simple, young woman. She looks as if she wandered onto the wrong set.
Director Charlotte Moore has a painterly feel for creating pictures, whether still or moving. The show moves fluidly. Characters’ perspective is well realized. I tend to take issue with any production whose personnel plays to the audience and not each other, however.
Choreographer Barry McNabb does a spritely job with brief dance turns by the cast and a splendid one with Susan’s numbers. Costume Design by David Toser is attractive and cohesive except for Og’s get-up which looks like he’s trying too hard.
Photos by Carol Rosegg
Opening: The Company
Music: Burton Lane, Lyrics: E.Y. Harburg, Book: E.Y. Harburg & Fred Saidy
Adapted and Directed by Charlotte Moore
Musical Supervisor: John Bell
Orchestra: Geraldine Anello, Janey Choi, Nina Kellman, Melanie Mason
Irish Repertory Theatre
132 West 22nd Street
Though December 18, 2016