There really is a crock of gold hiding at the end of Finian’s Rainbow. It’s to be found at Charing Cross Theatre in a show oozing pure, Irish charm.
It’s been more than 65 years since this lovely musical was staged in the West End and it’s a mystery as to why the long wait.
Yes, the story is utter nonsense but it can’t be bettered for a piece of whimsical escapism.
The songs are sensational. How Are Things In Glocca Morra, Old Devil Moon and If This Isn’t Love will be rolling around in your brain long after you leave the theatre.
There’s also a rich mix of R & B and gospel thrown in. One of my favourite tunes is Necessity, sung by a preacher and his choir.
Director Phil Willmott calls it a folly and that’s a perfect description of a wonderful feel-good musical that sets out to do nothing other than lift your spirits.
The story’s set in Rainbow Valley, a tract of land just outside Fort Knox, Kentucky, probably in post-war 1940s. The tobacco crops are failing because of the drought and the immigrants that work the land are on their uppers.
Enter Irishman Finian McLonegan and his beautiful red-headed granddaughter, Sharon, who have come to seek their fortune.
Their hopes are backed by Finian’s belief that if he buries a leprechaun’s crock, filled with gold, at the end of the rainbow then it will reap untold riches.
But the leprechaun wants his crock back to save himself from turning mortal, and lusty, and he turns up demanding satisfaction.
On top of that there’s a bigoted US land-grabbing senator who wants to snatch the valley to boost his own wealth.
And at its heart is, of course, a love story between the luminescent lovely Sharon (a golden-voiced Christina Bennington) and local lad Woody Mahoney (Joseph Peters).
It’s a crazy, crackpot tale with some wonderfully funny lines that flow as smoothly as Irish blarney.
Burton Lane’s music and the story by EY Harburg and Fred Saidy are every bit as vibrant as when they were first written though I suspect some of the wittier lines may have been slipped in by Charlotte Moore in this adaptation.
We’re not disappointed by some of the stereotypes. Michael J Hayes‘ senator is so ruthless that you want to boo him every time he’s on stage. He should really have been wearing a black Stetson for the part.
Rawkins is so racist that he doesn’t even eat black-eyed peas. His spunky maid (an under-used Anne Odeke) feigns a Gone With The Wind subservience in his presence but later reveals it’s an act.
His sidekick, the ‘bacca chewing sheriff (John Last) has come right out of central casting but is no worse for it. Boy, they’re a nasty pair.
James Horne holds the whole show together as Finian, a typical eccentric Irishman whose brain is filled with fancies and a belief in the Little People.
But he’s engaging and benevolent, acting as community grandpa to a ragtag collection of misfits who are scraping a living off the land.
Peters and Bennington make a sparkling couple, him in his plaid shirts and her in chintz and their duet, Old Devil Moon, is sung with conviction.
Raymond Walsh, as Og the leprechaun, is Oirish on overdrive as the part demands.
Willmott makes good use of the theatre, bringing the action out into the audience at regular intervals.
As much as I love the ambience of the Charing Cross Theatre, complete with tube trains rumbling back stage every few minutes, I can’t help but feel that Finian’s Rainbow deserves a big money transfer and a national tour.
It’s every bit as good as Seven Brides or Carousel.
Anyone out there with a crock of gold?
Finian’s Rainbow runs until May 10.