Finian's Rainbow

Finian’s Rainbow tells the story of Irish immigrant, Finian McLonergin, and his daughter, Sharon and their adventures in the fictional American town of Rainbow Valley, Missitucky. McLonergin has a ‘theory of economics’ that tells him if he plants gold somewhere near to Fort Knox, it will grow and he will become a millionaire. He has stolen a crock of gold from a leprechaun for this express purpose. Of course, real life isn’t this easy and Finian is soon contending with a racist senator who is keen to turn out all blacks and immigrants; a leprechaun desperate to get his gold back; and the consequences of combining an unlimited charge account with a large mail-order catalogue.

A lighter-than-air fairytale with hummable, memorable songs, Wilmott’s production boasts a gorgeous set and a charismatic and talented cast.

I find myself in a quandary reviewing this West End revival. A bona-fide hit when first produced in 1947, Finian’s Rainbow has had several Broadway revivals as well as a 1968 movie adaptation. However, the book of Finian’s Rainbow has not aged well. Whilst the musical’s heart is most definitely in the right place (‘Racism is bad! Classism is bad! All people are people!’), the execution of this message is outdated. Unfortunately, considering its message of tolerance, the story is, by today’s standards, offensive, classist, racist and filled with lazy stereotype. If this were a new musical I suspect it would be howled out of production – in fact, at one point in yesterday’s, the audience gasped in collective shock at a particularly problematic line. Director Phil Wilmott’s programme notes do state he had hoped to rewrite the book for this revival, but the copyright holders didn’t allow it, which really does seem a lost opportunity.

How then to review this production? If we leave out the politics troubling to a modern audience, and consider this show as a historical artifact, it is utterly charming. A lighter-than-air fairytale with hummable, memorable songs, Wilmott’s production boasts a gorgeous set and a charismatic and talented cast. James Horne’s Finian McLonergan had me grinning from ear-to-ear with his boundless, genuine optimism, whilst Michael J Hayes’ Senator Rawkins’ transformation into a soft-hearted teddy bear was all the more amusing for his previous cartoonish villainy. The ensemble is delightful– I particularly enjoyed Anne Odeke as Rawkins’ maid, whose wide and wicked grin kept the audience giggling long after she had finished singing her killer lines.

There is a line near the end of Finian’s Rainbow when the romantic hero, Woody, asks Sharon, where this ‘Glocca Mora’ is that she has been speaking about and singing about all through the show. She replies that he won’t find Glocca Mora on any map, it’s not a real place, but that far away, nostalgic, collective dream of the past, a make-believe Ireland of rolling hills, beautiful larks, bursting with joyful magic. Sharon may as well be speaking of the romantic and lovely Rainbow Valley, which, in the end, won me over with its good-hearted and sweet silliness. Finian’s Rainbow may not be deep, insightful or particularly politically correct, but it is good old-fashioned fun and its broad plea for tolerance and understanding is one that cannot be expressed too many times. 

Reviews by Jenny Williams

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Performances

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The Blurb

A cast of newcomers and experienced performers will bring new life to the old-fashioned musical comedy that focuses on an Irish immigrant, pursued by a leprechaun, hoping to grow gold in the soil around Fort Knox while finding a husband for his daughter.

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