A Fun-Filled “Finian’s Rainbow” at Ivoryton Playhouse

By Marlene S. Gaylinn

In the tiny town of Ivoryton (once famous for making ivory piano keys) and located not far from the historic, Goodspeed Opera House, is another landmark called Ivoryton Playhouse which is celebrating 99 successful years of professional entertainment.  Currently on the boards is the lighthearted, musical, “Finian’s Rainbow.”  This ancient, golden nugget about social ideals was written by E.Y. Harburg, and Fred Saidy, with music by Burton Lane, and Lyrics by E.Y. Harburg.

The son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, Harburg wrote the song, “Brother Can You Spare a Dime,” and lyrical pieces for “The Wizard of Oz” film.  His song, “Over The Rainbow,” won an Academy Award.  Ironically, Harburg was “blacklisted” during the House Un-American Activities Era for his political views – many of them have come to fruition today.
This background information is important to mention because “Finian’s Rainbow,” is about human rights, and a Utopian, Democratic Society that did not fully exist in the U.S. during 1947, when the play was written.  Thus, some of the concepts in the show may seem amusingly outdated.  Never the less, directed for Ivoryton Playhouse by Julia Kiley, “Finian’s Rainbow still bursts forward with positive rainbows of hope. 

 The talented Bruce Connelly is very much at home with his comic characterization of the wise and jolly, Finian, who comes to America with his daughter, Sharon, played by Kathleen Mulready.  Kathleen has the natural fortune of good looks and a very expressive voice to match.  Finian’s baggage contains a magical pot of gold stolen, or rather “borrowed,” from a Leprechaun in Ireland.  His theory is to bury the loot at Fort Knox where his riches will surely multiply.  The plot evolves around a racially integrated, community in the fictional,  “Missitucky.” The farmers here are struggling with a nasty, swindling landowner, Senator Billboard Rawkins and his henchmen (think Senator Theodore Bilbo, a notorious, Mississippi bigot and Ku Klux Klan member) played by Larry Lewis.  Here, the theme of community, property rights and greediness hits home during our current mortgage crises. 

There is a romance going on between Sharon and a charming, singing, folk-guitar player, who is appropriately named, “Woody”  (think Woody Guthrie).  A sub-plot contains a mute named Susan (Tessa Grunwald) who communicates through dancing.  Her musical accompaniment adds an intriguing, fairy-like touch to the story.   Meanwhile, Finian has his own problems regarding the now buried pot of gold which is claimed by Og, a returning Leprechaun (enchantingly played by Michael Nathanson) and the granting of three, fairy wishes.  To tell any more would give the magical tale away … and that might risk an eternal curse.  But, like all fairy tales, it’s safe to say that most everyone lives “…happily ever after.”

Finian’s Rainbow contains numerous familiar songs and each one is a gem.  Aside from the leading characters, many of the numbers are heartily performed by a small ensemble, headed by the determined, Patryce William.  Most enjoyable are: “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?”  “Something Sort of Grandish,” “If This Isn’t Love,” “On That Great Come and Get It Day,” “When The Idle Poof Become the Idle Rich,” “Old devil Moon,” and  “Look To The Rainbow.”  It may not be St. Patrick’s Day, but this uplifting show is a refreshing breeze, suitable for the entire family, during this long, hot summer.

Plays through Sept. 5.                         Box Office is:  860-767-7318

This review appears in “On Connecticut Theatre” August/2010                    

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