Despite two out-of-town engagements in 1999, the revival of the 1947 musical fantasy that took satiric pokes a racists, greed, America and romance, never made it to Broadway in 2000. But now Broadway stars John Cullum (as Finian) and Melissa Errico (as Sharon), with Irish-American O'Hare, whose grandfather was from Ireland, will headline this new gala benefit performance (unrelated to the scuttled revival), to support The Irish Repertory Theatre in New York City.
Lauren Bacall will host the evening. Tickets for the show are $150; show with supper admission is $300.
Irish Rep artistic director Charlotte Moore (currently behind Irish Rep's Peg O' My Heart) will stage Finian's Rainbow at the Hudson Theatre at 7 PM June 2, with dinner and silent auction to follow at the Millennium Broadway Hotel (both venues are at 145 W. 44th Street).
For reservations to the performance and/or supper, call (212) 255-0270.
The groundbreaking show was daring in 1947 for its liberal politics and cast of black and white characters, and floated on the wings of such songs as "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?," "Old Devil Moon," "If This Isn't Love" and "Look to the Rainbow." The show's racial plot points have not aged well, making it difficult to revival in a setting other than concerts. One major character, a white racist, is magically turned into a black man as a punishment (this is a world of leprechauns and pots of gold, after all).
The show is historically significant, as are many shows in the mandate of The Irish Rep, the respected Manhattan company that presents works by Irish writers or plays and musicals related to the Irish experience.
The Tony-winning librettist Peter Stone was contracted to work on the 1999 revised revival, aiming to sharpen the social and racial themes in the 50-year-old libretto by Fred Saidy and E.Y. Harburg. New York critics never got a chance to look at the show. Stone died earlier this year. Some say the musical has its heart in the right place, but unwittingly sends a racist message. No one questions the intentions of its late writers, who were known for their liberal politics and inclusive shows (the score also includes "That Great Come-and-Get-It Day," "When the Idle Poor Become the Idle Rich" and "Necessity," three pro-proletariat tunes).
O'Hare, a veteran of Broadway's Cabaret at Studio 54, who is nominated for a 2003 Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play for Take Me Out, recently talked of his brush with 1999's Finian's Rainbow, in which he got to sing such choice specialty songs as "Something Sort of Grandish" and "When I'm Not Near the Girl I Love."
"The reason they cast me [in 1999] is because I came in angry," O'Hare explained. "I did the leprechaun, Og, as an angry, mean, selfish sprite, which is what he is. It worked like gangbusters. Then they spent the next three months trying to undo me because they were scared of that. They tried to make me cute, and he's not cute. At the end he becomes gentle, nice, human, but he's got to start somewhere."
And what of the libretto?
"It's a great score, but unfortunately, the book is just not possible," O'Hare said. "People keep saying, 'Can't we make it palatable?' And you go, 'No, you can't.' It's racist through and through. The message is: If you were black, you'd hate it too. That's just not a good message. "
O'Hare said Derek Anson Jones, the respected director of Wit, had been consulted about the content of Finian's Rainbow in 1999. O'Hare said Jones suggested that if the show was going to be done then the romantic lead, Woody, should be cast with a black actor. That didn't happen.
The Irish Rep concert is expected to be a trimmed version of the musical. An original cast album and a 1960 revival cast album of the show are on CD. The 1968 movie version starred Fred Astaire as Finian, reassigning some of the songs to him. Francis Ford Coppola directed.
John Cullum is currently starring in Urinetown and is no stranger to the music of Burton Lane, having starred in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever on Broadway. Melissa Errico is a 2003 Tony Award nominee for her work in Broadway's Amour.
In Finian's Rainbow, a leprechaun follows an Irishman and his daughter to a mythical Southern U.S. state (Missitucky) where they become involved in a community overseen by a racist senator. Love prevails, but social satire is very much a part of the mix.
The original hope for the most recent Broadway revival was to open the show in New York City in the first few months of 2000. The lack of a Broadway house in spring 2000 did not encourage investors, 1999 producer Rodger Hess previously told Playbill On-Line.