Pros: Some upbeat and joyous songs from 1940s Broadway. Performed by a fantastic and energetic cast, with wonderful singing and dancing.
Cons: Weak whimsical plot that occasionally has a pantomime feel.
This Broadway musical hasn’t been performed in the West End for over 65 years. It originally had a run at the Palace Theatre in 1947, which closed after only 55 performances; as more cutting edge musicals evolved throughout the subsequent decades, major revivals became unlikely. Finian’s Rainbow now finds itself in the intimate and beautiful Charing Cross Theatre, with a predominantly young and enthusiastic cast.
The director has no illusions about the limitations of this musical, describing it as an ‘unfashionable folly from a bygone era’, but asserts that the quality of the songs will still appeal to a modern audience. Any lover of traditional musicals will find it hard to disagree with this. There are indeed some great songs and ‘Old Devil Moon’ is probably the most well known, having been recorded by the likes of Judy Garland, Chet Baker and Frank Sinatra. With well-choreographed and at times incredibly acrobatic dance routines and big chorus numbers, there is enough to make an enjoyable evening at the theatre. If, however, you are looking for narrative tension, strong characterisation and convincing dialogue, these qualities are largely absent.
Finian McLonigan (James Horne) moves to the southern United States with his granddaughter Sharon (Christina Bennington). He has a pot of gold that he plans to bury as he believes that the fertile soil in the USA will make it literally grow like a crop. Upon arrival in the town of Rainbow Valley, Sharon uses the gold to save the town and its inhabitants from the evil plans of a corrupt and dastardly senator. The gold, however, was stolen by Finian and belongs to a leprechaun, who will become mortal unless he gets it back. Inequality and racism are underlying themes and are among the most interesting aspects of the musical. However any attempt at political satire is overshadowed by the whimsical nature of the piece and the absurd Irish stereotypes.
Some of the performances are of high standard with the wonderful, energetic and talented ensemble worthy of particular praise. But between songs the action feels clunky, probably due to the poor script. Also the leprechaun character is annoying from the outset, though it is hard to imagine how he could have been played any better. The set is great and depicts a run down shanty town. Good lighting as well, which at times reminded me of the Wizard of Oz with its large sky-scapes.
There are a number of past Broadway musicals popping up in small London venues. This one was transferred from Union Street Theatre in Southwark, which also recently revived On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, also composed by Burton Lane. Charing Cross Theatre, an old music hall dating back to 1864, is much larger than Union Street. Consequently adaptions, such as the much larger set and increased amplification, have been made. What the two theatres have in common is that they are both in railway arches and the sound of trains rumbling above is a frequent event. Surprisingly, this adds to the atmosphere rather than distracts from it and creates a feeling of separation from the outside world. There are also no bad seats in either theatre and it is always a joy to be so close to the performers.
Music: Burton Lane
Book: E.Y. Harburg and Fred Saidly
Lyrics: E.Y Harburg
Director: Phil Wilmott
Producers: Steven M.Levy and Sean Sweeney
Booking Office: 08444 930650
Booking Link: www.charingcrosstheatre.co.ukBooking Until: 30th April