Reviewed by Joe Regan Jr.
Two legendary musicals by E.Y. Harburg, “Finian’s Rainbow” and “Flahooley” are being presented by The Harlem Repertory Theatre’s small Bandbox type theater at the 133th Street Arts Center with the generous support of the Yip Harburg Foundation. The color blind casting of both productions is something Harburg would have approved. “Finian’s Rainbow” (music by Burton Lane) has been revived many times but “Flahooley” (music by Sammy Fain) is rarely done. The songs from “Flahooley” have been kept alive because its original lead, Barbara Cook, has sung them in many of her cabaret shows. Cabaret artists will be familiar with “Here’s To Your Illusions,” “The World is Your Balloon,” “The Springtime Cometh” but the whole score is wonderful. There’s even a Christmas song, “Sing the Merry” which makes the production a special Holiday treat!
The original books have been adapted by Art Perlman into a seamless presentation that utilizes “Finian” for the first act and “Flahooley” for the second act. The cast includes four whites: Daniel Fergus Tantulonis who plays Finian and the owner of the toy factory B.G. Bigelow; Aili Venho who plays Sharon and the martinet office manager Baumgarten, Daniel Coles as the Sheriff, and Francisco Gregory who plays White Senator Rawlins and Farquarson. All the performers perform without amplification and the music direction which enhances the unmiked singers is by Michael Roth. The direction and choreography by HRT founder and artistic director Keith Lee Grant (choreography assistant Mabel Gomez, associate director, Coles) are the best I have seen in any production or off Broadway this season, with perfectly synchronized energetic movement by the entire cast. Both productions feature puppets (in “Finian,” Og’s first appearance is as a small puppet). The puppets for the original production of “Flahooley” were created and performed by Burr Tillstrom. “Flahooley” has many dolls including one that materializes into a life-sized woman. Every cast member has a clarion voice. Venho has an extraordinary soprano and she sings all those Lane/Harburg hits “Old Devil Moon,” “Glocca Mora” and “Look To the Rainbow” with stunning virtuosity. Jasmine Halloway, a large black woman, plays Barbara Cook’s role in “Flahooley” and she sings all those standards with great charm and charisma. Both romantic leads are played by Robert Guzman, a light skinned black man, who is wonderful in both parts. There is absolutely no problem seeing him as the romantic lead in “Finian,” as it adds to the dimension of the plot.
The black box set is never dull because there are extraordinary projections (a wonderful rainbow for “Finian” and street scenes and balloons for “Flahooley”) by video artist Edward Corcino. Both musicals feature plots about management exploitation which is very relevant to today’s issues of union busting. There is a scene in which there is a labor riot and all the dolls are smashed. The stage is literally littered with smashed dolls which might frighten some of the younger audience.
Both productions are rapidly paced and you cannot help but admire all of the cast, especially Kyria Geneva who plays the Yma Sumac part in “Flahooley,” Eric Miles as a black leprechaun Og, Janine Rainteau who dances up a storm as the mute Susan and, when she gets speech, sings a rapturous “If This Isn’t Love” with Miles, and Marcus Barjon who plays the Black Senator Rawlins. “The Begat” is sung by Barjon and Miles and it’s still a great song.
The Harlem Repertory Theatre is performing “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf” in repertory with the future performances of “Finian’s Rainbow” and “Flahooley” scheduled at 7 PM for December 12, December 19. December 27, December 28, January 3, January 4, January 10, January 11, and at 3 PM on Saturday, December 29, Sunday January 3, and Sunday, January 12. For reservations and information call 917-697-3555 or visit SMARTTIX.com or call 212 868-4444.
The Harlem Repertory Theatre
133rd Street Arts Center