Irish star Jim Norton makes 'Finian's Rainbow' a critic-proof Broadway musical
The plot is famously convoluted: when Finian McLonergan emigrates from Ireland with his daughter Sharon and a stolen pot of leprechaun gold stowed away in his bag, we know that retribution is certain to follow. Sure enough, it arrives in the shape of Og, a lecherous young Irish leprechaun in green figure-hugging Spandex (Christopher Fitzgerald). Outraged by the theft, Og has followed father and daughter all the way from home, desperate to recover his stolen treasure before the loss of it turns him permanently human.
Alongside all the giddy theatrics, the show tackles an issue that’s all too real: what happens when a bigoted leader like Senator Billboard Rawkins takes control, enacting laws that are actually smokescreens for his racism. Unfortunately for him, he reveals his opinions to Sharon, who accidentally turns the old bigot into a black man when she curses him near a pot of magic gold. Onstage a bigoted white man is improved by making him black, a device that still resonates in these so-called post racial times.
“The show is a very strange and wonderful hybrid of plotlines,” Baldwin tells Irish America. “You have an economic storyline, you’ve got a racial storyline, you’ve got an immigrant storyline and you have all this leprechaun magic as well. So our director made sure that we had very distinct people in the cast, giving each plotline direction from moment to moment.”
Like her co-star Jackson, Baldwin has some Irish ancestry to draw from – and better yet, she’s actually spent time there. “I do have some Irish heritage and I went to Ireland in 1998 and had a really lovely time. To top that off I check in with Jim every day to ask him about my accent work and he’s so generous always, he lets me know if I go too far. He’s a great guide.”
The show’s English director, Warren Carlyle, an immigrant to these shores himself, finds he has a strong personal affinity for the two central characters. With eight West End hits to his credit, Carlyle still finds himself identifying with the journeys taken by Finian and Sharon, who upend their own lives, move to a new country, meet new people and start all over again.
The search for home and the rootlessness that takes over until you find it are the show’s central themes, and because of that there’s a tenderness in the way that Finian and his daughter are accepted by the people of Rainbow Valley that mirrors Carlyle’s own experience in New York. Both the material and the actors have gotten under his skin, he says.
The show’s poignant score (written by Burton Lane and E.Y. Harburg, two gifted Jewish composers, as a sort of valentine to the Irish) is unforgettably moving too, a legacy shared between two wandering tribes. Norton seems to know this in his bones and he handles it delicately, giving the whole production an injection of smarts that lifts it to another level.
“Now these songs are so famous to us,” Carlyle tells Irish America. “We know, or we think we know, ‘Glocca Morra’ and ‘Look to the Rainbow’ and ‘That Old Devil Moon.’ But it was fascinating to watch the audiences at the City Center performances because there’s something powerful about them realizing that [the songs] all come from the same show. It’s one of the greatest scores ever written and frankly, it’s one of the greatest casts I’ve ever worked with. These actors come from all of these different backgrounds and places and yet they somehow unite in the telling of this story. That’s a very American thing, isn’t it?”
- An open letter in strong defence of capitalism.
- Sarah Palin is saving Christmas
- Racist incidents in Ireland up by 85 percent...
- Virginia governor slammed by doctor over...
- Gay teacher fired from Catholic school after...
- Irish drugs mule to escape full trial and...
- Top Christmas Irish ads that will be bring...
- Families as well as Catholic Church and governm
- Nelson Mandela was against IRA decommissioning.
- Irish radio presenter suspended after anti-Isra