Og Steals the Show
By Geary Danihy
How are things in Glocca Morra? Well, based on the Ivoryton Playhouse’s current production of “Finian’s Rainbow,” not bad at all.
With book and lyrics by E. Y. Harburg and music by Burton Lane, this 1947 musical tells the story of one Finian McLonergan (R. Bruce Connelly) who leads his daughter Sharon (Kathleen Mulready) on a quest that takes them from Ireland to Rainbow Valley, Missitucky, tobacco farming country located near Fort Knox. There, Finian buries a crock of gold he’s stolen from a leprechaun, Og (Michael Nathanson), in the hopes that proximity to the horde of U.S. buried gold will make his little cache grow. Pursued by Og, who without his gold is slowly becoming human, Finian fends off the bigoted, land-grabbing Senator Billboard Rawkins (Larry Lewis) as his daughter falls in love with Woody (normally played by John Rochette) and Og falls for Woody’s sister, Susan (Tessa Grunwald), a mute who “speaks” through dance.
Obviously, there’s a lot of fairy tale in the plot, and director Julia Kiley and scenic designer Tony Andrea do their utmost to take advantage of this. The likable though uneven production seems to start off in low gear, though perhaps on the Saturday evening I saw the show, this might have been due to a certain amount of trepidation on the cast’s part because the Friday show had been cancelled due to Rochette becoming ill, and on Saturday, with only one day’s notice, Schuyler Beeman, who choreographed the show, stepped into this central role.
Though understandably a bit stiff at first, Beeman did a more than credible job as the romantic lead, his voice blending nicely with Mulready’s. Though the couple never truly sparked, their interaction was believable enough and Beeman more than earned the applause he received from both audience and cast at the curtain call.
Mulready gives a sprightly, pert performance as Susan (It’s easy to see why she was tapped for the role of Babette in a regional production of “Beauty and the Beast.”) Her Irish accent is dead-on and her classically trained voice easily handles the full range of emotions called for in “Look to the Rainbow,” “Old Devil Moon” and “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?”
Whatever influenced the somewhat hesitant opening of the show, it was magically dispelled with the appearance of Og, much to the delight of the audience. How to describe Nathanson’s take on the role? Well, think of a cross between Bugs Bunny and Pepe Le Peu, with more than a touch of Taz the Tasmanian Devil thrown in for good measure, and you’ll have some idea of the cavorting Nathanson goes through. Though a bit over the top at times, Nathanson never stopped pleasing the audience (his final dance sequence with Susan is a delight to behold), and after his first appearance the entire cast seemed to loosen up and the evening’s pace improved dramatically.
Much of Og’s interaction is with Finian himself, and Connelly more than holds his own, never allowing himself to be upstaged by the manic leprechaun. Connelly is perhaps a bit too avuncular at times, but there’s a nice gleam in his eyes as he goes about his scheming and he provides solid grounding for the other characters to play off of.
The show would have benefited from a few more ensemble actors for the major production numbers, but those up on the somewhat restricted stage did their best to fill the room with glorious sound. This is especially true of Patryce Williams, who plays sharecropper Dottie and leads the cast in a rousing “Necessity.” The size of the stage also limited Grunwald’s dance numbers, for she is forced to rely almost solely on lateral movement. However, she is lithe and graceful and her dancing evokes multiple emotions.
Taken as a whole, Ivoryton’s “Finian’s Rainbow” accomplishes its primary task of entertaining its audience. There are still some rough edges, but those in attendance the night I saw the show came away smiling and humming, and perhaps still chuckling a bit at the fact that there’s “Something Sort of Grandish” in the idea of a leprechaun becoming human.
“Finian’s Rainbow” runs through Sunday, Sept. 5. For tickets or more information call 860-767-7318 or go to www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.