This time, the Irish Repertory Theatres Annual Gala Benefit, the groups 10th observation of the occasion, was back on a stage again, but with a difference.
On Monday night of this week, the Rep took over the Hudson Theater on West 44th Street for a single concert performance of a classic American musical comedy of the 1940s, a seldom-revived smash hit with an Irish theme and a rich score that boasts, among other things, an entirely unauthentic Irish ballad, which has, despite its illegitimacy, become one of the best-known and most beloved Hibernian melodies in the world.
The show, which opened on Broadway on Friday, Jan. 10, 1947, and racked up a total of 725 performances before it closed on Oct. 2, 1948, was, of course, Finians Rainbow, and that bogus ballad is How Are Things in Glocca Morra?
This years gala was hosted by the imposing Lauren Bacall, who followed in the footsteps of a little galaxy of mixed hosts, including Katharine Hepburn, Shirley Jones, Rosie ODonnell, Barbara Walters, Angela Lansbury, Dick Cavett, Lyn Redgrave, and, on two occasions, paired hosts, first Liam Neeson and his wife, Natasha Richardson, and then Gabriel Byrne teaming with Sinead Cusack.
In her brief introductory remarks, Bacall commented that by 1946, when Finians Rainbow was being written, she had already made two films, To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep, with whats his name, referring, of course, to her first husband, the actor Humphrey Bogart.
Finians Rainbow has a book by Fred Saidy and E.Y. Yip Harburg. The latter also wrote the witty lyrics for the enduring musical score by Burton Lane.
Although all three members of the creative team are deceased, they were all represented at Mondays performance by close family relatives: Lane by his widow, Lynn, Harburg by his son Ernie, and Saidy by Melissa McCaffrey.
The leading roles in the concert presentation of Finians Rainbow were performed by Denis OHare, John Cullum, Melissa Errico and Ciaran Sheehan, the last-named pair being Irish Rep regulars.
OHare, who is expected to win a Tony Award this Sunday night for his performance in Broadways Take Me Out, was Og, the wistful leprechaun first played by David Wayne, while Errico was the title characters daughter, Sharon McLonergan, the lovestruck village girl played in the original production by the late Ella Logan, of the famous Irish music hall clan from Glasgow.
On Monday evening, Finian McLonergan was played by Cullum, currently starring in the musical, Urinetown, and Sheehan was the romantic lead, Woody Mahoney. The Reps Producing Director, Ciaran OReilly, served as narrator, delivering a briskly edited version of the Saidy-Harburg libretto with grace and wit.
Incidentally, the Tonys, for which Errico, in addition to OHare, has been nominated, were first given out in 1947, the year Finians Rainbow debuted on Broadway, at the 46th Street Theatre, now the Richard Rodgers.
Errico has been Tony-nominated for her participation in the short-lived musical, Amour.
Over the years, the Saidy-Harburg book, intended as a satire on American capitalism and racism, has itself acquired a vaguely racist reputation, in addition to being decidedly dated, so the Reps clever curtailment of the script clearly enhanced the overall experience, letting the great Lane-Harburg score take the full spotlight with songs such as Look to the Rainbow, Old Devil Moon, If This Isnt Love, and, of course, How Are Things in Glocca Morra?
Finians Rainbow was revived three seasons ago with a road tour that was, its producers hoped, headed for Broadway. The production, however, after playing Florida and Ohio, failed to reach New York. In that revival, Finian was played by Brian Murray, familiar to Irish Rep audiences, while Og, the leprechaun, was none other than Denis OHare.
The Irish Repertory Theatres annual galas, whether devoted to the works of writers such as W.B. Yeats or Oscar Wilde, or to the inborn Irish passion for freedom, are unfailingly pleasurable evenings, but this years concert performance of Finians Rainbow was something of a standout, despite the shows somewhat ersatz Irishness.
This years gala was dedicated to the memory of Rusty Magee, the Irish Reps musical director and a frequent performer in their shows. After a long battle with cancer, Magee died, at age 47, on Valentines Day.