Category: Archive

Theater Review An Irish wake — and you’re invited

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Joseph Hurley

FINNEGAN’S FAREWELL, an interactive musical comedy by Kevin Alexander. Directed by Chuck Santoro. At St. Luke’s Church, 308 West 46th St., Wednesday evenings at 7 and Saturday afternoons at 2.

The Italians have one. The Jews had one for a while. So why shouldn’t the Irish have one of their own?

That’s apparently the thinking behind "Finnegan’s Farewell," billed as the "new interactive musical comedy," which opened this past week and will continue to play twice a week, on Wednesday evenings and Saturday matinees, starting at St. Luke’s Church, 308 West 46th St., and then moving across Eighth Avenue to "Vinnie Black’s Coliseum, the Cadillac of Caterers," in the basement of the Edison Hotel.

"Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding," the show that started this sort of audience-participation production, has now moved uptown from its West Village origins, and is in its 12th year, having outlasted a good percentage of "real" marriages.

The Jewish attempt to come up with something roughly equivalent, "Aunt Sylvia’s Funeral," faltered and closed after a relatively brief run.

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"Finnegan’s Farewell," as the title might indicate, is structured around an Irish funeral, followed by a slightly unclassifiable "celebration" featuring a team called the RiverKids Dance Troupe and a band advertised as "the Dublineers," not to mention a hot table laden with corned beef and cabbage and, it goes without saying, boiled potatoes.

Meanwhile, the Finnegan family saga, as written by Kevin Alexander, one of the creators and original performers of "Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding," goes on including a corpse with an identity crisis, at least one somewhat alienated sibling, an outrageously "wronged" wife, a pneumatic mistress the "deceased" head of household, a longtime postal employee, encountered on a gambling sojourn to Atlantic City, plus a hard-drinking son who’s a member of the New York Fire Department.

The level of the affable endeavor’s humor might best be indicated by the name attached to the "friend" Paddy Finnegan acquired at the New Jersey slot machines, Busty Quivers. As played, full out, by Sharon Angela, she is and she does.

"Finnegan’s Farewell" is good, hearty fun, but don’t go expecting its wit and insight to rival Moliere.

The new show shares St. Luke’s with "Late Night Catechism," and occupies "Vinnie Black’s," for the present at least, on one night and one afternoon when the folks from "Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding" aren’t laying out the lasagna.

The event begins before the audience even enters the church, with a solitary piper playing the familiar slow movement from Dvorak’s New World Symphony as he stands on the 46th Street curbstone watching the crowd assemble.

After roughly 30 minutes in the church, the audience and the actors, the latter rigorously and admirably remaining within the parameters of their assigned characters, make their sometimes perilous passage across the avenue and up the block to the hall, one brief flight of stairs beneath the Edison.

From the outset, even before the short journey to "Vinnie Black’s," the line separating the audience from the event seems to blur, and, as the old baseball hawkers used to say, "You can’t tell the players without a scorecard."

On a recent evening, a woman was heard to say, "This is the most fun I’ve had since ‘Tina Turner’s Wedding.’ " Either she was one of the actors, or a slightly mind-fogged patron, or she had indeed, long ago, been in attendance when Ike and Tina tied the Gordian knot.

Chuck Santoro, the inventive director of "Finnegan’s Farewell," has cobbled together an unusually credible cast for the new effort, with, among the standouts, Norma Crawford as the vengeful wife, Maggie, Bart Shatto and Tade Reen, as Patrick and Brian, the Finnegan sons, and Erin Pender and Christine Siracusa as the family daughters, Erin and Colleen. Mark Aldrich and Elizabeth Nagangast perform yeoman service as, respectively, Erin’s husband, Jimmy, and Patrick’s fiancee, Brooke.

Not directly related, but nonetheless effective, are Shawn McLean as Tyrone Jefferson, a colleague of the deceased’s from his post office days, Roger Rifkin as Max Goldstein, the family lawyer, Robert R. Oliver as Bill Buckley, the mortician, and Katherine O’Sullivan as Katherine Buckley, the embalmer.

Elton Laron is fine as a break-dancing waiter, Elton McGuire, as are Darren Dooley as Father Seamus and, in his subdued way, Tommy Carroll, who turns in a suitable quiet performance as the corpse, "a man loved by everyone."

The RiverKids, a five-girl aggregation made up of Meaghan Ginnetty, Kerry Hannigan, and the Geerlings sisters, Meaghan, Siobhan and the youngest, Bridget, are great crowd-pleasers, as are the Dublineers, with John Geerlings on keyboards, Robert Allen on bodhran, Terry McKee on bazuki and the brother-and-sister team of Marie and Martin Reilly on, respectively, fiddle and accordion.

"Finnegan’s Farewell" aims to provide a rip-roaring good time, and, within its limitations, it pretty much delivers. Be warned, though, the bar at "Vinnie Black’s" gets $5 for a beer, even domestic.

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