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Finian's Rainbow

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The Writing of Finian's Rainbow

Noel KatzCommentary and writing tips by Noel Katz

Finian's Rainbow had its heart in the right place. It condemned racial prejudice with whimsy and humor, striking just the right tone to get a point across without sounding preachy. Often, writers have some message they wish to convey to an audience. But, forgetting that the first requirement of theatre is that it entertain, their shows end up sounding like sermons. Finian's Rainbow doesn't turn the sadness of being a victim of bigotry into song. Rather, it finds things to celebrate ("That Great Come-and-Get-It Day," "When the Idle Poor Become the Idle Rich") and makes fun of a segregationist politician by having a magic wish turn him black.

There are perils, unfortunately, to writing a show that's set in the present day and depicts a currently present social problem. Over the years, audience perception of that problem is bound to change, and, in the case of Finian's Rainbow, the style of presenting blacks, the Irish, and Southern bigots in theatre has altered considerably. So, the show isn't produced very often. And it's not because racial prejudice has ended; it's partly because the civil rights struggles since 1947 are remembered as such serious affairs, a lampoon of the post-War status quo no longer seems so funny.

Composer Burton Lane got to combine several different styles of music in the same score. The numbers for the black characters ("The Begat," "Necessity") mimic the fun of African-American jazz. The hero is named after Woody Guthrie, and clearly Lane is drawing upon the folk idiom. Most convincing of all are the songs written for the Irish characters. "How Are Things In Glocca Morra?" is often mistaken for an authentic Irish song, when actually lyricist Yip Harburg made up the name of the town.

Harburg was often thought of (by his friends, by himself) as something of a leprechaun, and said he had no trouble thinking like one to create one of the great character-specific comedy songs of all time. "When I'm Not Near the Girl I Love (I Love the Girl I'm Near)" keeps utilizing the writer's trick of turning a phrase back in on itself for punch lines: "When I can't fondle the hand I'm fond of, I fondle the hand at hand," and "When I'm not close to the kiss that I cling to, I cling to the kiss that's close."

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DVD

Finian's Rainbow DVD Cover Finian's Rainbow (DVD) from Amazon.com 1968 film version starring Fred Astiare, Petula Clark, and Tommy Steele. Special features include: new introduction and commentary by Francis Ford Coppoloa; featurette: The World Premiere of Finian's Rainbow, and theatrical trailer

Cast Recordings

Finian's Rainbow Original CastFinian's Rainbow (1947 Original Broadway Cast) from Amazon.com Songs include: Overture, This Time Of The Year, How Are Things In Glocca Morra?, Look To The Rainbow, Old Devil Moon, Something Sort Of Grandish, If This Isn't Love, Necessity, That Great Come-And-Get-It Day, When The Idle Poor Become, The Idle Rich, The Begat, When I'm Not Near The Girl I Love, and That Great Come-And-Get-It Day.Special Bonus tracks: Yip Harburg Talks And Sings: When I'm Not Near The Girl I Love, Yip Harburg Talks And Sings: Don't Pass Me By

Sheet Music for Finian's Rainbow

Finian's Rainbow (Score) Fortunately this stellar Burton Lane score is available for your personal study.

"How Are Things in Glocca Morra" from Musicnotes.com Instant digital download sheet music.

"Old Devil Moon" from Musicnotes.com Instant digital download sheet music.

"Look to the Rainbow" from Musicnotes.com Instant digital download sheet music.

Finian's Rainbow Vocal SelectionsFinian's Rainbow (Vocal Selections) Including: How Are Things in Glocca Morra, If This Isn't Love, Look to the Rainbow, Old Devil Moon, Something Sort of Grandish, That Great Come and Get It Day, and When I'm Not Near the Girl I Love.

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