Brigadoon & Finian's Rainbow (Naxos: 8.120791)
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Finian's Rainbow Original 1947 Broadway Cast
Lyrics by E. Y. Harburg Music by Burton Lane
Brigadoon Original 1947 Broadway Cast
Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner Music by Frederick Loewe
In the early months of 1947, two musicalsopened on Broadway eight weeks apart: Finian'sRainbow and Brigadoon.
They shared both certain similarities anddifferences, but the one thing that no one canargue about is the melodic richness and lyricalinvention of both scores, something worthcelebrating on this re-issue of their original castrecordings.
How were the two shows alike? Well, theyeach offered the flavour of Celtic Britain: Irelandfrom Finian's Rainbow and Scotland fromBrigadoon.
They also both dipped heavily into the realmof fantasy, with Finian's Rainbow's three wishesand leprechaun, Og, being matched byBrigadoon's vanishing town and omniscientdominie,Mr. Lundie.
Most interestingly, each explored in theirown way the wave of optimism that was generallyto have followed the ending of World War II.
Each show looks at postwar America and finds itchoking in materialism and misplaced values.
The differences between the shows lie in theway they make their statements. Brigadoon,despite some comic relief, is a serious, almost asolemn show, with opening and closing choralsections that are positively hymn-like. Finian'sRainbow, on the other hand, is breezily (andsometimes scathingly) satirical, with its momentsof romance and uplift more than compensatedfor by a cheeky irreverence.
Both shows were driven from conceptionthrough execution by their lyricist/librettists, apair of idiosyncratic men who couldn't havebeen more different.
Yip Harburg and Alan Jay Lerner were bornin New York City and loved to play with words -but that's where all similarities between the twoend. Harburg was from a poor family of RussianJewish immigrants on the lower East Side; Lernercame from the well-to-do Wasp establishmentand grew up on Park Avenue.
Born in 1898, Harburg was the older manand he had carved out an interesting careerbefore Finian's Rainbow made it big. Starting atan early age, he had provided the scores forsixteen revues and musicals, although only oneof them, Bloomer Girl,written in 1944 withHarold Arlen, remains with us today.
Harburg is perhaps best remembered foranother partnership with Arlen: the score for theiconic 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz, whichfeatured, among other gems,\Over the Rainbow".
But more than just a songwriter, Harburg wasa social activist and prominent participant inmany of the left wing organizations of the time.
When Harburg looked around America in theyears following the Second World War, he saw acountry choking on its own prosperity and blindto its overwhelming racism.
And so he decided to address these issueswith a tongue-in-cheek fable about the IrishFinian, who steals the leprechauns' pot of goldfrom the end of the rainbow, and buries it in thefictional American state of Missitucky.
There's also a parallel plot about three wishes,with one of them turning a racist senator blackso he could feel the sting of his hatred first-hand.
But interestingly enough, if you listen to theoriginal cast recording, you'll find scant evidenceof any of this.
Harburg and Lane (and co-librettist FredSaidy) decided to restrict their satire largely tothe book of the show and to let the score singprimarily of whimsy and romance.
Songs like How Are Things In GloccaMorra?, Look To The Rainbow, If This Isn'tLove and Old Devil Moon waft over us withwarm, luscious melodies and lightly poetic lyrics.
The thick-as-peat-moss brogue of Ella Logan alsosees to it that this is one show where the BlarneyStone is kissed as often as the leading lady.
If we need further charming, that comesalong in the person of the Leprechaun, Og,whois gradually changing into a human. It was acareer-making role for David Wayne, built largelyon two solos that show Harburg's wordplay at itsdeftest: Something Sort Of Grandish andWhen I'm Not Near The Girl I Love.
There's still,however, a bit of social commentin the pair of sly numbers for the blacks in thecast: Necessity and The Begat, as well as theAct II opener, When The Idle Poor BecomeThe Idle Rich.
This recording features the original cast, witha pair of oddities worth noting. That GreatCome And Get It Day was moved to the end ofthe album to provide a 'big finish', but it's actuallythe first act finale. And Albert Sharpe,whoplayed the leading role of Finian, is never heardbecause - in one of the strangest bits ofcomposition in American musical theatre - hedoesn't sing a note.
If Finian's Rainbow is vintage Harburg, thenBrigadoon is classic Lerner, a reflection of thewriter, his life and his beliefs.
The son of a philandering father who owneda lucrative dress business, Lerner was to wind upmarrying eight times and writing some of Broadway'sfinest scores (My Fair Lady, Camelot).
He was educated at Harvard and thought hemight want to be a boxer until he lost the sightin his left eye during an accident in the ring. Hebegan writing witty lyrics for campus shows, butafter graduation, he drifted into the worlds ofradio and advertising, simply marking time.
After meeting Frederick Loewe in 1942, thepair wrote a trio of forgotten shows (The Life ofthe Party, What's Up? and The Spring of NextYear). While preparing the last one, Loewebreezily remarked one day that 'faith could movemountains' and the image stuck in Lerner's mindand he took it further. Could faith move awhole town?It was the kind of question a humanist likeLerner would ask as he saw his friends andcolleagues coming back shell-shocked anddisillusioned from the Second World War. Themedia kept trumpeting how well America wasdoing, but Lerner saw the malaise underneath.
Although he never acknowledged it, aGerman folk tale called 'Germelshausen' containsvirtually the same plot as that of Brigadoon. Amysterious town appears for one day everycentury. Its residents live as they always haveand then they vanish for another hundred years.
Lerner moved the action to the Scottishhighlands and imagined two jaded New Yorkhunters who stumbled on the place and becamepart of its world for that one magical day, findinghope and love in the process.
Loewe was always a master at capturing amusical tone without resorting to pastiche andBrigadoon displays that gift beautifully. Fromthe opening choral statement, through suchgenre pieces as Down On MacConnachySquare and Come To Me, Bend To Me, thescore exudes the essence of the Highlands.
One of the obligatory pair of comic piecesfor the hoydenish female comic that the periodloved ("The Real Love Of My Life") is omitted,doubtless because of the raunchy lyrics. Hersecond song My Mother's Wedding Daysurvives, although the lyric alluding to the singer'sillegitimacy ('It was a day beyond compare / Iought to know cause I was there') was cut.
It's the love ballads that make Brigadoontruly endure. From the heroine's 'wanting' songWaiting For My Dearie, through to the mostcharming of all meetings The Heather On TheHill, right down to the Hit Parade styled AlmostLike Being In Love, it's a score of lasting beauty.
And the songs of loss in Act II, There ButFor You Go I and From This Day On, can stillbreak the heart sixty years later.
The original cast are featured, althoughprominent roles played by James Mitchell,William Hansen and George Keane don't existhere because their characters never sang.
Lerner made Marion Bell, the show's leadinglady, his second wife in 1947, but they divorcedin 1949.
This collection also includes Arthur Fiedler's1950 Boston