Westport Country Playhouse, Westport
Words are inadequate to describe the glory of the restored, renovated and revitalized Westport Country Playhouse! Past history combined with present comfort! Weathered woods, ancient walls, old posters of early Playhouse productions all encompassed in spacious lobbies and lounges. And even the rest rooms, well above Broadway standards, call for paeans of praise.
Having duly noted the joys of the building itself, what of its opening show, “Finian’s Rainbow,” now on the boards? The show, as it turns out, has both its strengths and, alas, its weaknesses. On the plus side are its top-notch performers and the delightful Burton Lane/E. Y. Harburg tunes. As to the negatives, see below….
First, it is well to check the playbill in advance, noting that director Charlotte Moore is not offering a full-scale musical production, but, rather, a version of the show “in concert form,” as she puts it, with musicians and cast sitting around on stage. Once that is acknowledged, it is easier to cut this show some slack.
In point of fact, this approach is much like the “Encores” series, which has been successfully recycling old shows in concert form on Broadway. But Ms. Moore’s efforts are less satisfying. Though the songs are given full measure by these excellent entertainers, one never gets a good sense of the story or its characters. It is all very piecemeal, served up in bits and pieces.
Not that “Finian” is an absorbing story, but it deserves better treatment than this. One knows, from past visits to “Finian’s Rainbow,” that it is the tale of an Irishman and his daughter who land on American shores, seeking their fortunes--the Irishman having stolen a crock of gold from the leprechauns back home. But, given this format and staging, the negligible plot weakens further, sinking into the ground with the crock of gold.
To compound the problems, the set itself makes no sense whatsoever. Three giant poles (or are they trees?) are mounted on stage, with a backdrop of a musical score (which informs us that this is a concert, not a show). What is this stage set all about?
But back to the positives. Ms. Moore is blessed with a cast which counts Melissa Errico, Milo O’Shea, Malcolm Gets, Kimberly Dawn Neumann, Andi Hopkins among its strong performers. In particular, Gets, as the leprechaun, steals the show as he turns from elf to human being. Gets can do no wrong, as he rises above the shortcomings of this production. His number with the appealing dancer Kimberly Dawn Neumann, as they cavort through “When I’m Not Near the Girl I Love,” is the highlight of the evening. Melissa Errico as the Irish heroine gives the usual high-level performance for which she has come to be known, and it matters little that she quickly loses her Irish brogue. Milo O’Shea is also endearing as the old Irish rogue, and others worthy of note musically include Stephen Buntrock, Andi Hopkins, and John Sloman.
Whatever the drawbacks of this opening show, the star of the evening shines with unwavering brilliance. And that is the Westport Country Playhouse itself.
-- Irene Backalenick
June 18, 2005