Book by E.Y. Harburg & Fred Saidy
Music by Harold Arlen
Lyrics by E.Y. Harburg

INFO:

Opened at the 46th St. Theater    January 10, 1947    725 Performances
Original Director: Bretaigne Windust
Original Choreographer: Michael Kidd
Original Producer: Lee Sabinson and William R. Katzell
Original Leads: Finian: Albert Sharpe    Sharon: Ella Logan    Woody: Donald Richards   Og: David Wayne
Cast Size: Male: 4 Female: 2 Ensemble: Large (at least 16) Total Cast Size: 22 or more, perhaps could be done with a smaller cast of about 14, but it would be a stretch.
Orchestra: 20-22. Can be done with a much smaller grouping, even piano/bass/drums. There exists a two-piano arrangement.
Published Script: Out of print.
Production Rights: Tams Witmark
Recordings: Original cast, in ’48. It’s okay. There are at least three others I know of, all of them are credible. None are definitive.  The ’04 is good, but two pianos?  Really?
Film: 1968, directed by Francis Ford Coppola (of Godfather fame!), starring Fred Astaire as Finian. It’s okay, but the play has more bite.
Other shows by the authors: Harburg: The Wizard Of Oz.    Lane: On A Clear Day You Can See Forever
Awards:1947 Tony Best Supporting Actor (Wayne); Best Choreographer (Kidd).

WHO SHOULD DO THIS SHOW:

And it’s a sensationally entertainin’ and magically wonderful bit o’ blarny, it is. (Sorry. I was channeling Barry Fitzgerald for a moment.) This is a great show for High Schools with talented students, colleges, universities, Dinner Theaters, stock companies and busy regional companies that want to place a show with low-needs tech in a busy season, and Off-Broadway. Broadway too, but I would start a production of this play elsewhere and build it’s reputation before bringing it in.

Be Warned:

Finian’s Rainbow is an interesting and in some way, difficult show. It deals with tough subjects for a musical comedy/fantasy, such as bigotry, and American materialism. Harburg rarely wrote anything that was not politically driven, and as you may know, politics and entertainment are uncomfortable bedfellows.

Also, in the tale, a bigoted White Senator is struck by lightning, turned Black, and experiences the bigotry he has institutionalized first hand. It’s a brilliant stroke…but many years ago, when I approached the NAACP, they seemed opposed under any circumstances to a White actor playing a Black character. Is this rather foolish. Yup, given the message, the whole point of the thing. And I think the person I spoke to just didn’t get it, because of course, the show has been produced many, many times since then. You may want to feel it out, though.

This show is okay for audiences who refuse to think, and who only want entertainment – though I do think such a crowd will be entertained and pleased overall. An audience looking for a challenge will get more out of the show, though.

THE STORY:

ACT ONE: Rainbow Valley, Missitucky. (A place as mythical as Glocca Morra.) Poor Blacks and Whites get along just fine, but Senator Rawkins, landlord and politician, has his own capitalistic agenda. He sends a Sheriff’s Deputy to post notices that the land is going up for auction. But the people living there are told (through dance) by Susan the Silent that her brother, Woody Mahoney will be there soon with the payment for the land, and at “This Time Of The Year,” no one can be bothered with the mortgage man. The train arrives with Woody. But he doesn’t have the money to save his property. The stage is emptied.

Finian McLonergan and his daughter, Sharon, arrive all the way from Ireland. He bears a crock of gold stolen from the leprechauns, and plans to plant it in the fertile soil in America. Finian is (per Harburg’s words) “the little man who has nothing and wants a little of life.” But they see nothing but tobacco land, and shabby housing. Sharon tries to con her father into recalling the beauty of Ireland, in hope that they will return there. (“How Are Things In Glocca Morra”, ridiculously beautiful song.) But they do not return to Ireland. Finian responds with his own creed, “Look To The Rainbow”. Finian goes off to find a plot of land to bury his stolen crock of gold. (It should grow more gold – that’s why Americans dug up gold on the west coast only to bury it 100 years later on the East Coast – in Fort Knox. And that’s why all Americans are rich.) He does so, planting three wishes into the land with the gold.

Sharon encounters Woody, and love sparks almost immediately. (“Old Devil Moon”, another gorgeous song.) But Finian has been followed to America by Og, once a leprechaun entire, but now half-mortal and changing fast, thanks to Finian’s theft. When Og meets Sharon, he is stunned that he instantly has feelings for her – mortal feelings he is unfamiliar and uncomfortable with, as they are so new. (“Something Sort Of Grandish”) It is implied that Og and Sharon would not be such a terrible pairing, as they both are pure children of Ireland.

Woody and Sharon unite and kiss, and Susan the Silent dances out the secret to everyone, that Woody is in love. (“If This Isn’t Love”.) And would you believe it…gold has been discovered on sharecropper land – to Finian’s horror and disgust. Yes, it’s the crock. But Rawkins also hears of the gold through the report of two geologists (one White, one Black who Rawkins treats like garbage until he hears about the gold), and now the Senator really wants the land. And he discovers that he does not own the plot of land the gold was found on. But Finian owns the land now, having made a deal with Woody and given him the money to save his land in exchange for the corner where the gold is buried.

In the meantime, the common people – sharecroppers, make it clear that their life is going to continue to unfortunately revolve around that mother, “Necessity”. But Rawkins changes the law so he can kick the sharecroppers and weveryone else off the land. Sharon confronts the man, and in love with the idea of America, asks him if he’s ever read the Constitution, to which the bigot replies “No, I’m too busy defending it.” Sharon wishes the man could be like to be Black in such a land. There is a burst of lightning, as she is standing over the buried crock of gold! Rawkins is turned Black, and flees into the woods, where he will be subject to the Jim Crow laws he himself wrote.

Woody hurries in to announce to the sharecroppers that the firm of Shears and Robust have granted everyone in the valley unlimited credit, on the basis of the discovered gold. They’re all rich! It’s “That Great Come And Get It Day”!

ACT TWO: Shears and Robust delivers the many ridiculous clothes and goods they will never need, ordered by the people of the Valley. (“When The Idle Poor Become The Idle Rich”)

Og is still searching for his crock of gold. He meets Black Rawkins in the woods, who is hiding out. Rawkins explains furiously that he doesn’t want anyone to see him “like this.” Og sees nothing wrong with the man, so Rawkins explains all the things he now isn’t able to do, just because of the laws he put on the books. Og realizes that this once-White man has only been changed in a skin-deep way, and conjures up a greater change in Rawkins. The Senator, unable to sing so long as he was infected with bigotry, suddenly starts to sing. He stumbles into a trio of Black gospel singers and joins them for “The Begat”.

Og is turning ever more mortal. In the woods, he encounters Susan the Silent…and discovers he loves her as much as Sharon. In fact, he declares in song, “When I’m Not Near The Girl I Love…I love the girl I’m near.” Indeed, nearly a mortal man, now. But Sharon has been arrested, after turning Rawkins Black – for witchcraft. She will be hanged at sunrise unless Rawkins reverts to his bigoted old White southern self by them. Finian, desperate to save his daughter, goes to dig up the gold. But it’s gone! Silent Susan has secretly moved it.

Og, with Susan, wishes she could talk. And she can! So now, Og knows he’s standing over the crock of gold. Og digs it up, but it holds only one more wish. He had planned to use the wish to return himself and all his breed to full Leprechauns. He is torn. Then, Susan kisses him, and he suddenly no longer minds being a mortal. Wish made, Rawkins is white again…but with a new and improved understanding of the world. Woody and Sharon will remain in Rainbow Valley together. And the people are now genuinely rich, using the credit they were given to buy farm equipment. Only Finian is left to believe in magic. His rainbow appears in the sky. He waves farewell to all, announcing he’ll meet them someday in Glocca Morra, and departs. Sharon lets Woody know there is no such place other than in her father’s head.

THE SONGS:

“This Time Of The Year”, “How Are Things In Glocca Morra”, “Look To The Rainbow”, “Old Devil Moon”, “Something Sort Of Grandish”, “If This Isn’t Love”, “Necessity”, “That Great Come-And-Get-It Day”, “When The Idle Poor Become The Idle Rich”, “The Begat”, “When I’m Not Near The Girl I Love”

Hits include “How Are Things In Glocca Morra”, “Old Devil Moon”, “Look To The Rainbow”.

MY OPINIONS:

You are, as always, free to skip or ignore my opinions and rating. If your production then turns out to be something less than grandish, you can always blame it on that old devil moon.

Finian’s Rainbow has always been a favorite of mine, almost from my first real exposure to Musicals. It is a funny, charming and whimsical piece. Harburg, who devised he idea as well as the lyrics, did not much care apparently about the vogue at that time, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s integrated musical, where every song, every dance contributes to the story. Finian is a of looser construction, and is far closer in style and in its heart to the Gershwin’s and Kaufman’s Of Thee I Sing, a political farce/Musical Comedy that won the Pulitzer Prize. R&H would soon win a Pulitzer of their own for South Pacific, a clear statement that the world of Musical Theater has moved past Musical Comedy as it existed in the 30′s.

That said, the book for Finian’s works like a Swiss watch, gags and ideas building into other and bigger (or at least more inclusive) gags and ideas. It is well-written, and very entertaining. And the score is enormous fun. In Harburg’s fanciful world (one Gilbert of Gilbert and Sullivan would have been at home in, to some extent), poor sharecroppers become filthy rich, and bigoted White southern senators get struck by lightning and turned back. Justice reigns. And America remains the land of opportunity, drawing a fantastic Irish schemer and his lovely daughter heir in search of a future, and accompanied (unknown to them) by the Leprechaun from whom Finian has stolen the crock of gold. (I like this tale so much that, many years later, I wrote my own leprechaun/pot of gold story – one wildly different from Finian. You can look it over (eventually) on this site, The Third Wish.

The composer, Burton Lane, when told the story for the first time by Harburg, asked him what a Leprechaun is. So, with all the horror movies featuring ax-wielding Leprechauns getting air-play on every cable network at Halloween, Lane’s problem no longer exists.

There’s nothing “real” here, we’re in a fantasy land of miracles that happens to be named “America”. If only it were so. This is a Musical Comedy, period, and I think that’s all for the best! But it is a Musical Comedy about serious things…bigotry, poverty, the widening breach between rich and poor. It makes it’s points with laughs and great songs, but it does make points. And I love Finian all the more for it. I also love the show because it’s technical requirements are almost nothing. This is a relatively inexpensive “big” musical. Directed with a creative hand able to get the cast size down to say 14-16, and an orchestra of say 5 (piano, keyboard, percussion/drums, bass, guitar/banjo), this can make a very affordable production. It’s a great show in my book, highly deserving of many productions.

MY RATING: ** (An excellent show, well worth considering.)

 

PRODUCTION CONCERNS AND IDEAS:

DIFFICULTY OF MUSIC:

The music is surprisingly complex and rich, filled with unusual rhythms and intervals. “Old Devil Moon” has a melody that has wrapped many an unprepared singer around a pole, trying to learn it. And that is far from the only challenge the score presents.

You’ll need a Musical Director with experience. A lot of types of song are represented, from a gospel quartet, to Broadway upbeats, to haunting ballads. There’s a lot of choral work. Your rehearsal pianist must play with energy and unusual precision.

Finian – Lyric baritone, a voice character-driven and very, very Irish. Fun, able to deliver a comic lyric with vitality and timing.

Sharon – Soprano, warm mid-register, some belt, terrific with love songs.

Woody – Tenor with warm mid-register and fairly full high notes, plays guitar ideally.

Og – Lyric baritone, character-driven voice, powerful Irish accent.

Rawkins – Tenor, very southern, needs a fine voice for his part of “The Begat”.

Susan The Silent – Um, non-singing.

Ensemble – All must belt well, have some high notes, and since they’ll be playing various roles, have regional accents at their disposal.

DIFFICULTY OF DANCE, CHOREOGRAPHIC CONCERNS:

This show has some serious dance numbers in it. There are company numbers that have to roar with life, while somehow remaining focused on the main characters and the story. And this in no integrated Musical, where all the songs and dances contribute directly to the story. At least three numbers really are there to make social statements, Harburg’s reason for writing the Musical in the first place. That means those numbers will need some serious entertainment value to justify their existence.

A Choreographer for this show needs to be experienced with all sorts of Broadway styles from the 40s. (No Bob Fosse stuff, please.) The Musical is a musical and story-mix of Irish, and the deep American south, and your musical ideas should generate from traditional dance born in these two camps, as well as from the idea being communicated by each number.

A Choreographer will doubtless be expected to stage “This Time Of The Year”,“If This Isn’t Love”, “Necessity”, “That Great Come-And-Get-It Day”, “When The Idle Poor Become The Idle Rich”, “The Begat”, and perhaps “When I’m Not Near The Girl I Love”.

“This Time Of The Year” introduces more than a situation, and provides Woody a big entrance. It also establishes the show’s attitude, insolent in the face of authority. The song establishes a major theme of the show as well as getting the story going. The story points need to be front and center with the attitude. The characters aren’t merely antagonistic, when they get into “sweet merry buds…”, they truly don’t give a d**m about authority, none. Keep the energy and insolence high, fill the stage, open the show with vitality and commitment.

“If This Isn’t Love” covers another theme of the show, the shock and joy of discovering you’ve found the right someone, having crossed an ocean and left a life behind to do so. It is a celebration, jubilatory and bursting with joy. Again, use as much of the company as possible, fill the stage,

“Necessity” is more laid back, casual, the steadiness of the music a reflection of the regular, predictable aspects of the common man’s work-a-day life. This song is also about fun, clever lyrics that deserve to be clearly expressed. It’s uses a blues sensibility, which provides you a movement motif as well. More controlled than the other ensemble numbers.

“That Great-Come-And-Get-It Day” is a wonderful, aggressive gospel-like celebration of long-awaited for success for the poor and needy. It focuses around Woody (who is a bit like Woody Guthrie…), a sort of local folk hero, and you should revolve the movement around him. He is the least interesting of the principle roles, and needs this number to inject his character with some life.

“When The Idle Poor….” is almost a comic gavotte, the poor prancing about in newly-purchased and overly-ostentatious wealth. The number will be built around increasingly silly sight gags. But it also needs some opening-the-act energy. It can’t be a celebration of the type “Come-And-Get-It Day” is, or the redundancy that could plague some of the numbers in the show will be pushed front and center. Again, this song is more about the clever lyric than music, don’t let the lyric get lost to movement.

“The Begat” is a gospel quartet number. Again, the style provides a movement motif.

“When I’m Not Near The Girl I Love” is a solo, an aggressive waltz in which Og the leprechaun finds himself in love with two women. Find a way choreographically to demonstrate his dilemma, perhaps in a “dream”, caught between Sharon and Susan. And keep central to the number the important dilemma that he is nearly human now, and deeply uncomfortable with that fact. This is a racial dilemma for leprechauns everywhere, and only Og can fix it. The stakes are high for him, the fact that he loves several mortal women a symptom of his disease.

Get some dancers in your ensemble, you’ll need them.

CASTING CONCERNS:

Finian – 40-50s. Irish as the day is long. A dreamer, a schemer, a man of infinite ambition that occasionally blinds him to other things, and his daughter’s needs. Stubborn, extremely inventive and creative when it comes to lies and story-telling. Must dance as well. Cast for type, acting, accent, voice, dance, but should be strong at all of these.

Sharon – Late teens- 20s. Lovely, bright, appealing, quite Irish, not really taken in by her father’s brand of blarny, most of the time, but she loves the man dearly and buys in to the idea that life requires a dream. Cast for type, voice, acting, accent, some movement.

Woody – Mid 20s-30s. A sort of basic, simple, rugged, handsome southern White man with a big and good heart, a fine sense of humor, and his own brand of creativity. A man who knows what he wants when he sees it, and a natural leader. Cast for type, voice, acting, accent, some movement.

Og – Ageless, but probably an actor of 25-45. A leprechaun gradually changing to a mortal, and finding himself afflicted with mortal feelings, like love. An actor with great likeability, strong comic chops, a perfect Irish accent. Cast for acting, accent, voice, type, dance, but must get all of them right.

Rawkins – Named for actual southern and notoriously bigoted senators Bilbo and Rankins.

Anywhere from mid-30s to mid-60s. A bigoted White southern senator who embodies the southern belief that the south shall rise again and that the old ways were the best ways. Struck by lightning and turned black, the man (who must play “southern Black”) discovers the results of his actions the hard way before being turned back. Cast for acting, type, accent, voice, some movement – must do all well.

Susan The Silent – Late teens-early 20s. Beautiful, alive, a force of nature. Cast for dance, type.

Ensemble – Some Black actors, at least 4. All actors must play southerners, so the accents have to be there. All must sing very well, dance well (or very well, depending on your choreographer).

SETS:

This show does NOT need expensive sets, and can be done effectively on a Unit set with minor – and I mean minor – additions through the evening.

There are ten sets in the show, and nine of them are potentially “The Meetin’ Place.” This would suggest rather strongly it be your base, or unit set, and other pieces be added or subtracted to it to make the show run. The Meetin’ Place is in a land called Rainbow Valley, Missitucky – but it’s a little like the Tennessee River Valley Authority. It should be an open place in the small town, perhaps at the edge of the woods. Just hints of a road, a number of pine and other trees( free-standing and easy to move), a few houses in the distance (that are models or painted to a backdrop, and which can be covered by trees from view, or lost to darkness). That’s Act I, Scene I, II, IV, perhaps V and VI, and Act II scene I (maybe), perhaps II, III, and IV (all of Act II!)

For Act I, Scene III, the Colonial Estate of Senator Billboard Rawkins (named for two actual and rather bigoted Senators of the time), drop or carry in about four white Greek columns (free standing on wheels, cut-aways lowered from the rafters, over to you). Keep this simple and inexpensive.

Play Act I, Scene V, (a path in the woods) on the road, and perhaps move some of the existing trees closer together and isolate part of the stage with light.

Act II, Scene I is “Rainbow Valley”, so perhaps start the act by using intermission to push trees to the edges right and left, revealing a few houses and perhaps the idea of a “field”, with something appropriate growing there, that would have been hidden earlier by the placement of trees, and that does not have to be much anyway.

Act II, scene II takes place on “a wooded section of the hill”. Just move trees back in, in a new configuration and towards downstage, blocking sight of the road perhaps.

Then, back to the Meetin’ place, and that’s it! A set that can be done for very little money, easily transported and simple to build. It should feel in design a bit mystical, magical. The ground below grows gold!

Anyway, a very simple design and execution.

COSTUMES:

This job has a few fun things to do, but taken altogether, it’s not too tough and can be done inexpensively. Mostly you’ll be costuming sharecroppers and town’s folk from some mythical period around the late 30′s in the south. Overalls, white (or off-white, please) shirts, whatever. There are many, many films and photos you can use to research this.

Finian and Sharon are from Ireland, and something in their costuming should set them apart. They also sing a lot (as does Woody), so make sure they can breathe. Susan the silent should probably be barefoot (usually played that way) and in a dress with a knee-length or so flyaway skirt that moves beautifully when she dances. Og needs breakaway pants, and then silly golfer-like pants, gaudy and checked, or something along those lines.

The town’s people get their Shears and Robust clothes – overcoats, minks, Hollywood looks from the 30s-early 40s, silly over-the-top things. The preacher and three Gospellers should be dressed sort of (loosely) to match.

Really, that’s it. Some of this will be found in closets, some in thrift stores. You should not need to rent or build much of anything, maybe the Shears and Robust costumes.

PROPS:

A crock of GOLD! (Not real…sigh.) A guitar for Woody. A traveling carpet bag for Finian, another for his daughter. Sharecropping tools. A gun for the Deputy, and a badge.

LIGHTING:

There are a few special effects. The Gold must shine, hit by light. A rainbow needs to be projected against “the sky.” Lightning strikes Rawkins, that’s a lighting effect, perhaps followed by darkness? Moonlight for “Old Devil Moon.” The rest is pretty much straight-ahead Musical Comedy. Keep things lively, let the look of big numbers pop. Also, you’ll be using lighting on a unit set to isolate and control the audience’s attention at times. Not really a job for a novice.

MAKE-UP:

Keep make-up discreet. The hardest tasks you’ll have involve the two characters who change before our eyes. Og starts out as ½ a fantasy character, a leprechaun. Partly green? Partly pointed ear? One pointed and one not? He’s half way to mortal. Through the play,as each wish is made, he needs to become a little more mortal. Third wish – he’s mortal. You can get some laughs out of how you handle this.

More difficult is the transformation by Rawkins from White to Black, and back again. You cannot use two separate actors. This must be done fairly fast each time. Maybe you could use a mask, an obvious mask, as it’s magic, and everyone “sees” it as real? The other characters (and Rawkin’s) reaction would tell us how he changed. But it will work better with make-up applied, and yes, that means you’ll have a White actor in Blackface, something long frowned upon. This time, however, you’re not satirizing Blacks, you’re making a point about bigotry. If the change looks reasonably real, I think so much the better.

KEY PERSONNEL (The ones you MUST get right.):

Director, Musical Director, Choreographer, Finian, Sharon, Og

MY THOUGHTS:

This show is great fun. It did not appear on Broadway for about 50 years after the original closed, when it was revived with two pianos, in 2004. It deserves far better a fate.

Sometimes we like to think that we’re past problems like those presented in the show – bigotry, poverty, greed. We’re not. The show is as timely now as the day it was written.