Fighting for Revival

finians-rainbowThere’s an interesting operation going on at the St. James Theatre. An old musical is in the ICU, with a dusty book and a catchy score, and they’re trying desperately to revive it. It looked like they might lose it in the first act during some real moments of touch and go where a fatal flat line of boredom seemed eminent but the good news is, by the end they manage to stabilize Finian’s Rainbow.

How they pick what musicals should be revived will forever remain a mystery to me, and this current revival of Finian’s Rainbow didn’t shed any light on that question. The book is barely relevant to our current times, and the parts that are relevant are too preachy for today’s audience. To give an example, the script tells us that people should be treated as equals regardless of the color of their skin -- maybe it’s just me, but I think we’re on a little more complicated ground these days. Even with book adaptations from Arthur Perlman, the creaking can be heard for miles. However, the songs are beautiful and contain the show’s most poignant statements, so they gave it a try.

First off, they tried to spice up the thankless romantic roles by throwing Cheyenne Jackson in as the male lead. While Jackson worked phenomenally well in Xanadu he was unable to breath life into the one-dimensional character of Woody Mahoney. He tries, but there’s not much Mahoney does except sing “Old Devil Moon” and fall in love with the leading lady the moment she walks on the stage. Kate Baldwin plays Jackson’s immediate love interest, Sharon McLonergan, and while she has a very strong, classically trained voice, the last thing this piece needs is anything classic.

What the show did need was a modern touch, which was provided by Christopher Fitzgerald in the role of Og. Fitzgerald finds all the fun in his character and, along with Terri White (Dottie) and Alina Faye (Susan Mahoney), provides the moments that kept me from losing interest. Fitzgerald and White both stop the show with their big solo numbers, “Necessity” and “When I’m Not Near the Girl I Love,” and Faye dances with an energy and grace that brighten up the stage with her presence. Without these three performances, the show would have been in big trouble.

John Lee Beatty’s set design is appropriately unassuming and well textured, and Toni-Leslie James’s costumes flow with function, nicely complementing the movements of Warren Carlyle’s choreography, which is traditional and energetic. Carlyle also directs, but shows more strength for choreography and ending the dances with well-crafted images.

Overall, this is a walk, don’t run, sort of show, and you wouldn’t be missing anything amazing if you didn’t see it, but if you’re looking for a pleasant evening in the theater, you could do a lot worse. - C. Jefferson Thom

cj_thomMr. Thom lives in New York City and walks dogs, writes plays, and loves dissecting pop culture.