The old devil moon will rise over Miami Oct. 23 for the official pre Broadway opening of the newly-revised revival of Finian's Rainbow, the Yip Harburg-Burton Lane musical fantasy about romance, racism, rags and riches.
The Coconut Grove Playhouse is hosting the revival of the 1947 musical, which now has a new book by Peter Stone, through Nov. 21. Previews began there Oct. 12. The first performance was greeted with a standing ovation, and it was not the only ovation in previews, according to a spokesperson. Sales are healthy for what is a high-profile, big-budget show for Coconut Grove.
The production has been tweaked and refined in its brief preview period. Changes and reconsiderations are expected to be part of the two-city out of-town tryout. Finian's Rainbow moves to Cleveland's Palace Theatre Center Nov. 30-Dec. 12 and sole producer Rodger Hess is anticipating a move to Broadway in the first quarter of 2000.
The cast of the musical, which is part impish fantasy and part social satire, includes Brian Murray as Finian, Denis O'Hare as Og the Leprechaun, Austin Pendleton as Senator Rawkins, Kate Jennings Grant as Sharon, Tina Ou as Susan the Silent and J. Robert Spencer as Woody and Don Stephenson as Buzz Collins and Terri White as the big-voiced singer who croons the have-nots' lament, "Necessity."
Lonny Price, artistic director Musical Theatre Works, and a veteran of musicals such as Merrily We Roll Along and Rags, directs. Marguerite Derricks, who created the swinging dances for "Austin Powers," choreographs.
Despite the legit presence of British Murray, known for Shakespeare and more, the show's major selling point is now the classic, hit-packed score, which includes "Old Devil Moon," "Look to the Rainbow," "If This Isn't Love" and "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?"
Designers for Finian's Rainbow are Loren Sherman (scenic), Paul Tazewell (costumes) and Phil Monat (lighting).
The company includes Joseph Webster, Cyrus Akeem Brooks, Kate Baldwin, Angela Brydon, Dioni Michelle Collins, Kim Craven, Christopher F. Davis, Stephanie Fittro, Asmeret Ghebremichael, Derric Harris, Scott Hislop, Denis Jones, Trent Armand Kendall, Vicky Lambert, Rosa Janae Lee, James Ludwig, Brandi Chavonne Massey, Wes Pope and Eric Riley.
African-American actor Ossie Davis is the script's cultural adviser. The multicultural musical prominently features a leprechaun whose crock of gold is wished upon to turn a racist senator into a black man. Stone (1776, Woman of the Year, Titanic), who reworked potentially offensive Native American references in the current Annie Get Your Gun, told Playbill On-Line he's making Finian's edgier and more politically sharp. Over the years, he said, the references to racism had grown quaint.
Director Price told Playbill On-Line that the changes made have to do with song order, clarification of scenes and sharpening the political edge.
The score remains intact, with no deletions or additions, Price said, days before the first preview in Miami.
"When I first read it, as much as there were so many wonderful things in it, the dramaturgy was very bizarre," Price said. "The classic example is [the opening number] "This Time of the Year." It's this song with people chanting, "Woody's coming, Woody's coming" [to save the day] and at the end of the number, they all run off stage, they do another scene, and then they bring him on. It was like doing the 'Hello, Dolly!' number and she doesn't come down the stairs!
"There was a lot of dramaturgical work that we did. The songs are in a different order now, 'Necessity' has a completely new concept, which I think strengthens not only the number, but the whole show. But this great score felt a lot like stage weights because the events of the scenes were before or after the numbers. The numbers weren't very well motivated. We've done an awful lot of work to at least put the score in an order where when the songs come, they are plugged in in such a profound way that they're as joyful as they are on the record, which I didn't feel when I saw other productions of it."
Finian's Rainbow originally opened on Broadway on Jan. 10, 1947, and ran for 725 performances. It took two Tony Awards (for choreographer Michael Kidd and supporting actor David Wayne). The cast included Ella Logan and Anita Alvarez. A 1968 film version, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, starred Fred Astaire as Finian, Petula Clark as his daughter, Sharon, and Tommy Steele as Og.
The musical mixes Irish lyricism, African-American blues and Broadway show tunes in a story about an Irishman, his daughter and a leprechaun who travel to mythical "Missitucky" and find hopeful sharecroppers, romance and racism.
The socialist sentiments in Harburg's book and lyrics burble up in "Necessity," a lament about not having enough money: "My feet want to dance in the sun/My head wants to rest in the shade/The Lord says, 'Go out and have fun,'/But the landlord says, 'Your rent ain't paid.'"
For information about the Coconut Grove run, call (305) 442-4000.