Friday, October 9, 2009

Finian's back on Broadway

Last night, I decided to take in the first preview to cheer on the incandescent Kate Baldwin as she becomes Broadway's newest leading lady. I won't go into specific detail, since it was only the first performance and it's still a work in progress, but anyone who saw Finian's Rainbow at the Encores! should consider checking out the Broadway production at the St James Theatre. The orchestra has been moved into the pit, plus there is new scenery, costumes and lighting. The powers that be have restored a smidgen of the book and Christopher Fitzgerald and David Schramm (Roy from Wings!) have joined the company. They've had the time to go through tightening and fixing what couldn't be done over the week allotted for rehearsal at the City Center.

Before the house lights went down for the overture, Warren Carlyle, the director and choreographer welcomed the audience and told us that we would be seeing an understudy that evening and asked us to cheer her on. Alina Faye, the actress who normally dances the role of Susan the Silent, was out with pneumonia. Stepping into her shoes was Leslie Donna Flesner, who was appearing on Broadway for the first time and only learned the part the day before. The role of Susan requires her to dance the entire show (including her dialogue) and culminates in the haunting second act "Dance of the Crock" where she dances to the accompaniment of a sole harmonica. Carlyle begged us to lend her our love and support. Flesner, with very little time to prepare, danced exquisitely. I'm sure if attention wasn't called to the fact, there would have been folks in the audience who wouldn't have realized she was the understudy - she was that extraordinary in an unexpectedly auspicious debut.

How nice to see a vintage musical of the Golden Age sparing no expense in utilizing the original orchestrations and dance arrangements (in this case, Robert Russell Bennett, Don Walker and the unsung heroine of all the popular favorites of the 40s and 50s, Trude Rittman). As I mentioned, the orchestra is in the pit, the first time I have seen that with an Encores production - with 26 players including the harp and two French horns! It's also a joy to see Tony winner Jim Norton having the time of his life on stage in a musical, and to welcome the unceasingly divine Terri White back to Broadway after a twenty year absence. When Ms. White tears into "Necessity," her rich contralto resonates like a shock wave, electrifying the audience and once again proving why she is and always has been an audience favorite. If Encores! should ever decide to revive Hallelujah, Baby! they must cast White in the Lillian Hayman role so she can bring down the City Center with "I Don't Know Where She Got It."

Post-show, SarahB and I stopped by for an aperitif or two at our beloved Angus. In fact, Angus himself seated us and we settled in for a pleasant evening as the casts of Finian's and Superior Donuts hung out, and we joined the latter (!) in a chorus of "Edelweiss." Plus, various literary figures and a certain star of Glee stopped by with his significant other. It was irrepressible night as "who's who" of the New York scene seemed to be out and about, proving why it's the place to be. I was the Max Detweiler to Sarah's Baroness Schraeder.

Meanwhile, Finian's Rainbow is back in its first Broadway revival since a week long run at the 46th Street (now Richard Rodgers) Theatre in 1960 (where the original production played). Interesting to note, all three Broadway revivals of the show have originated from the City Center. The show is now in previews, with an opening night set for October 29.

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