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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Finian's Rainbow
Union Theatre  February-March 2014; Charing Cross Theatre April-May 2014

Along with its other productions, the Union Theatre has carved out a niche for itself by regularly rediscovering and reviving B-list Broadway musicals of the 1940s and 1950s. 

That's not a disparagement when you realise this was a Golden Age for the musical and the A-list is made up of shows like Oklahoma, My Fair Lady and West Side Story, then the second rank is well worth exploring. 

This 1947 hit has a particularly silly plot (about which more later), but a score by Burton Lane and E. Y. Harburg that generated a string of pop classics including 'How Are Things In Glocca Morra', 'If This Isn't Love', 'Old Devil Moon' and 'When I'm Not Near The Girl I Love' (which is more than Andrew Lloyd Webber has managed in decades). 

The story has something to do with a stage Irishman moving to Kentucky, where he meets some stage Southerners. He's stolen a leprechaun's pot of gold and the elf is chasing him, his granddaughter falls in love with a local boy, and the combination of blarney and magic foils a local racist. 

What little weight the original book (by Harburg and Fred Saidy) had came from a social agenda, satirising both economic inequality and racism, and this adaptation by Charlotte Moore censors and softens both to protect modern PC sensibilities - let's just say that blackface was originally featured somewhat to the show's detriment. 

The same impulse also weakens some of the characterisations, as both James Horne as Finian and particularly Raymond Walsh as the leprechaun could and probably should be a lot more stage-Irish. 

Still, the excellent score is there, and director Phil Willmott and choreographer Thomas Michael Voss move the large cast around in inventive and attractive ways within the Union's small stage. 

James Horne brings an easy warmth, if not quite enough blarney, to Finian, while Christina Bennington makes his granddaughter more of a clear-headed, sharp-tongued colleen than the typical ingenue, adding nice colours to the character. Joseph Peters is attractive as her beau and Laura Bella Griffin sweet and lovely as Susan the Silent.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Finian's Rainbow - Union Theatre 2014

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