By Bob Evans
On his way to following his dream, Finian “borrows” a leprechaun’s pot of gold from the Emerald Isle and transports it to America, near Fort Knox and plans to bury the treasure in hopes it will grow like a crop, continue to produce more gold, and subsequently continue to grow into un-foretold wealth.
However, money (or gold) does not grow on trees, shrubs, or plants, and Finian’s plan never quite materializes as he envisions. But, his plan does, in a way, save the livelihood of some Black share-croppers, bring love to his daughter, helps a silent girl to find her speech, and brings a leprechaun to America where he loses his magical existence when he falls in love.
Sound like a realistic story? Probably not, but “Finian’s Rainbow” a 1940s Broadway show beings the magic and charm to Spinning Tree Theatre in its season opening musical, true to their vision to resurrect a mid century musical and present it in a new light to a new audience with all local Kansas City talent.
Spinning Tree’s “Finian’s Rainbow” utilizes a two piano version that co-founder Michael Grayman-Parkhurst researched and located that fits the small stage format. Grayman-Parkhurst said he was happy when he found that he could produce the show with a cast of 14 and keep the show tightly fit into the smaller confines of the Just Off Broadway space.
The story of Finian’s Rainbow overflows with charm, partly due to the performance of Phil Firoini as Finnian. Fiorini lights up the stage with his personification of the mis-informed purloiner of the Irish pot of gold. Even with the best intent of someday returning the gold, the audience just knows it’s never gonna happen and still laugh at Finian’s plan to grow wealth.
And what would a Broadway musical comedy be without a pair of love-birds, in this show played by Elise Poehling and Joseph Carr. Separately and together, their magnificent voices elevate the show to high standards. Poehling’s melodic soprano elevates the songs to show-stopping as she sings “How Are Things in Glocca Morra” and “Look to the Rainbow.” Carr stands out in his solo parts of “Old Devil Moon.” When they sing together, their voices give great support to the other and the harmonies are magical.
With a musical comedy, a villain needs to present dastardly problems or situations. In this case, Connor Branson and Bob Wearing fill the bill. Wearing, especially delightfully devilish, gives another of his strong caricatures of Buzz Collins. Expect to laugh at his performance. Senator Billboard Rawkins, portrayed by Nathan Dale Short creates a beautiful about-face as a villain turned hero in a part that could potentially be racially charged if not for his delivery of the character in a light fashioned, comedic way. And then there is the leprechaun, Og, played and sung by Michael DeCoursey. DeCoursey delivers the comedic “When I’m Not Near the Girl I Love,” with pizzazz.
Musical-Comedy remains alive and well when production companies dust them off and present them to new audiences. “Finian’s Rainbow” recently revived on Broadway fills the bill for Spinning Tree Theatre and their vision to present quality shows to new audiences. The show is charming, heartfelt, silly, and fun. The score contains melodies more popular 60 years ago, but still familiar enough to audiences. Several of the songs included became stand alone hits in their time. And, still the songs are enjoyable.
The cast is: Phil Fiorini, Elise Poehling, Joseph Carr, Olivia Cabrera, Michael DeCoursey, Connor Branson, Siena Radice, Nathan Dale Short, Emily Vargo, Bob Wearing, Charity Harris, Sheridan Mirador, Aggie Williams, Lillian Williams. Accompanists are: Gary Green and Pamela Baskin-Watson.
“Finian’s Rainbow” continues at the Just Off Broadway Theatre through Sept. 17. Opening night drew a 90 percent capacity crowd. Advance ticketing suggested to avoid sold out performances. Tickets may be purchased through Central Ticket Office at 816.235.6222.
Tags: Spinning Tree Theatre, Just Off Broadway Theatre, “Finian’s Rainbow”, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Theatre, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment