Broadway is in the midst of a craze for revivals. As of this writing, there are planned productions of “The Miracle Worker”, “A View From The Bridge”, “A Little Night Music”, yet another production of “La Cage Aux Folles” just 5 years after the last one, “Lend Me A Tenor”, “Promises, Promises”, “The Glass Menagerie”and “Pippin”.
Already running right now is a stupendously dreadful production of the seemingly unkillable “Bye Bye Birdie”, a melancholy London production of “Hamlet”, a completely one-sided and overproduced “Oleanna” that is sadly over-directed by the otherwise wonderful Doug Hughes, who also has the fabulous revival of “The Royal Family” running until mid-December; the wonderful and enlightening “Hair” from the original producer of the 1968 transfer(The Public Theatre), a new, fresh take on the sublime “Ragtime”, and the latest entry to the ranks, which could just turn out to be the most fun you’ll have at a musical this season-“Finian’s Rainbow”. This wondrous transfer from last season’s Encores! series may prove to be more financially successful than the original-but in today’s economic climate, who knows if that’s possible. Look at what sadly befell David Cromer’s rapturous retake on Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs” only one week after a terrific opening-it closed for lack of audience. But more on that in a bit. Let’s talk about “Finian’s Rainbow”
It’s always been a problematic piece-the last attempt at a major Broadway revival that would have starred Brian Murray and Denis O’Hare, died an unseemly death out of town some years ago-in Florida! It’s not an easy story to get today’s audiences to accept. An Irishman and his lovely daughter arrive in a little Southern town in Missitucky, carrying a stolen pot-o-gold the Irishman hopes to bury near Fort Knox to grow more gold in fertile soil. The leprechaun who owns the gold follows; a bigoted white politician is turned black by a magic spell; the town warms to its first taste of buying on credit-and oh yes, there’s a deaf-mute who dances her dialogue and ends up with the leprechaun. And to top it all off, the big, strapping hero’s name is Woody. This is, after all, pre-political correctness. But it’s musical comedy, people, and there’s plenty of both to make up for a very silly story. There are songs in this show that have withstood the test of time-big old fashioned, well-made songs like “How Are Things In Glocca Morra”, “Look To The Rainbow”, “Old Devil Moon” “When I’m Not Near The Girl I Love” and my personal favorite-the big Act One crowd pleaser, “If This Isn’t Love”(which I defy you to listen to and NOT hear the original theme to the 60’s sitcom “Dennis The Menace”).
The cast in this revival is also beautiful and grand-ish. Cheyenne Jackson is an effortlessly charming, robust Woody(I am NOT going there), Kate Baldwin has the voice of an angel and a winning charm as Sharon, and Jim Norton, a Tony winner for “The Seafarer” two seasons ago, nearly walks off with the whole shebang as Sharon’s father, the titular Finian. He is, in a word, magnificent. I say Mr. Norton nearly walks off with the show and he might have gotten away with it were it nor for Christopher Fitzgerald as the leprechaun Og. Fitzgerald is a supremely gifted actor/ dancer/singer/comedian in the style of old-timers like Ray Bolger and Donald O’Connor and he owns the stage whenever he trods upon it. In an evening full of bounteous performances, his is the bounty you’ll treasure. This is a show for everyone in the family. DO NOT MISS IT.
I can’t not mention the sad premature departure of “Brighton Beach Memoirs” from Broadway after only a week of regular performances. The reviews were terrific, the production was terrific, I had a great time, indeed a better time than I had 25 years ago at the original production. So what went wrong? Who can say for sure, but I’m directing most of my frustration towards a team of producers who mishandled, indeed bungled, the advertising, did almost nothing in terms of television appearances and/or press for the extraordinary cast that unfortunately did not include big name movie superstars, and had no reserves of money tucked away to carry the show through its first month or so until word-of-mouth had a chance to build. Of course, the problem could have been the choice of the plays themselves(” Brighton Beach” was to have run in repertory with its sequel, “Broadway Bound” by mid November). How many theatregoers haven’t been exposed to this piece in the last 25 years? How many community-theate productions, summer stock productions, regional theatre productions have there been? Plenty, would be my guess. It could be people knew it too well to be interested, no matter what the critics thought. But the bottom line is this-a superb group of actors and actresses are undeservedly out of work, and in the case of Josh Grisetti, who was to have starred in “Broadway Bound”, never even seen at all. Such is the nature of the business, and every actor knows it.
But in the case of Josh Grisetti-the multi-talented Stanley Tucci is directing the first Broadway revival of “Lend Me A Tenor” this winter, and that lead character would seem a natural for Mr. Grisetti.
Mr. Tucci, I hope you get to read this and then read Mr. Grisetti for your lead.
And if there’s anything for Laurie Metcalf-well, that would be nice, too.