About this Recording
8.120791 - LANE: Finian's Rainbow / LOEWE: Brigadoon (Original Broadway Cast) (1947)

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 musicals opened on Broadway eight weeks apart: Finian’s Rainbow and Brigadoon.

They shared both certain similarities and differences, but the one thing that no one can argue about is the melodic richness and lyrical invention of both scores, something worth celebrating on this re-issue of their original cast recordings.

How were the two shows alike? Well, they each offered the flavour of Celtic Britain: Ireland from Finian’s Rainbow and Scotland from Brigadoon.

They also both dipped heavily into the realm of fantasy, with Finian’s Rainbow’s three wishes and leprechaun, Og, being matched by Brigadoon’s vanishing town and omniscient dominie,Mr. Lundie.

Most interestingly, each explored in their own way the wave of optimism that was generally to have followed the ending of World War II. Each show looks at postwar America and finds it choking in materialism and misplaced values.

The differences between the shows lie in the way they make their statements. Brigadoon, despite some comic relief, is a serious, almost a solemn show, with opening and closing choral sections that are positively hymn-like. Finian’s Rainbow, on the other hand, is breezily (and sometimes scathingly) satirical, with its moments of romance and uplift more than compensated for by a cheeky irreverence.

Both shows were driven from conception through execution by their lyricist/librettists, a pair of idiosyncratic men who couldn’t have been more different.

Yip Harburg and Alan Jay Lerner were born in New York City and loved to play with words – but that’s where all similarities between the two end. Harburg was from a poor family of Russian Jewish immigrants on the lower East Side; Lerner came from the well-to-do Wasp establishment and grew up on Park Avenue.

Born in 1898, Harburg was the older man and he had carved out an interesting career before Finian’s Rainbow made it big. Starting at an early age, he had provided the scores for sixteen revues and musicals, although only one of them, Bloomer Girl,written in 1944 with Harold Arlen, remains with us today.

Harburg is perhaps best remembered for another partnership with Arlen: the score for the iconic 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz, which featured, among other gems,“Over the Rainbow”.

But more than just a songwriter, Harburg was a social activist and prominent participant in many of the left wing organizations of the time.

When Harburg looked around America in the years following the Second World War, he saw a country choking on its own prosperity and blind to its overwhelming racism.

And so he decided to address these issues with a tongue-in-cheek fable about the Irish Finian, who steals the leprechauns’ pot of gold from the end of the rainbow, and buries it in the fictional American state of Missitucky.

There’s also a parallel plot about three wishes, with one of them turning a racist senator black so he could feel the sting of his hatred first-hand.

But interestingly enough, if you listen to the original cast recording, you’ll find scant evidence of any of this.

Harburg and Lane (and co-librettist Fred Saidy) decided to restrict their satire largely to the book of the show and to let the score sing primarily of whimsy and romance.

Songs like How Are Things In Glocca Morra?, Look To The Rainbow, If This Isn’t Love and Old Devil Moon waft over us with warm, luscious melodies and lightly poetic lyrics. The thick-as-peat-moss brogue of Ella Logan also sees to it that this is one show where the Blarney Stone is kissed as often as the leading lady.

If we need further charming, that comes along in the person of the Leprechaun, Og,who is gradually changing into a human. It was a career-making role for David Wayne, built largely on two solos that show Harburg’s wordplay at its deftest: Something Sort Of Grandish and When I’m Not Near The Girl I Love.

There’s still,however, a bit of social comment in the pair of sly numbers for the blacks in the cast: Necessity and The Begat, as well as the Act II opener, When The Idle Poor Become The Idle Rich.

This recording features the original cast, with a pair of oddities worth noting. That Great Come And Get It Day was moved to the end of the album to provide a ‘big finish’, but it’s actually the first act finale. And Albert Sharpe,who played the leading role of Finian, is never heard because – in one of the strangest bits of composition in American musical theatre – he doesn’t sing a note.

If Finian’s Rainbow is vintage Harburg, then Brigadoon is classic Lerner, a reflection of the writer, his life and his beliefs.

The son of a philandering father who owned a lucrative dress business, Lerner was to wind up marrying eight times and writing some of Broadway’s finest scores (My Fair Lady, Camelot).

He was educated at Harvard and thought he might want to be a boxer until he lost the sight in his left eye during an accident in the ring. He began writing witty lyrics for campus shows, but after graduation, he drifted into the worlds of radio and advertising, simply marking time.

After meeting Frederick Loewe in 1942, the pair wrote a trio of forgotten shows (The Life of the Party, What’s Up? and The Spring of Next Year). While preparing the last one, Loewe breezily remarked one day that ‘faith could move mountains’ and the image stuck in Lerner’s mind and he took it further. Could faith move a whole town?

It was the kind of question a humanist like Lerner would ask as he saw his friends and colleagues coming back shell-shocked and disillusioned from the Second World War. The media kept trumpeting how well America was doing, but Lerner saw the malaise underneath.

Although he never acknowledged it, a German folk tale called ‘Germelshausen’ contains virtually the same plot as that of Brigadoon. A mysterious town appears for one day every century. Its residents live as they always have and then they vanish for another hundred years.

Lerner moved the action to the Scottish highlands and imagined two jaded New York hunters who stumbled on the place and became part of its world for that one magical day, finding hope and love in the process.

Loewe was always a master at capturing a musical tone without resorting to pastiche and Brigadoon displays that gift beautifully. From the opening choral statement, through such genre pieces as Down On MacConnachy Square and Come To Me, Bend To Me, the score exudes the essence of the Highlands.

One of the obligatory pair of comic pieces for the hoydenish female comic that the period loved (“The Real Love Of My Life”) is omitted, doubtless because of the raunchy lyrics. Her second song My Mother’s Wedding Day survives, although the lyric alluding to the singer’s illegitimacy (‘It was a day beyond compare / I ought to know cause I was there’) was cut.

It’s the love ballads that make Brigadoon truly endure. From the heroine’s ‘wanting’ song Waiting For My Dearie, through to the most charming of all meetings The Heather On The Hill, right down to the Hit Parade styled Almost Like Being In Love, it’s a score of lasting beauty.

And the songs of loss in Act II, There But For You Go I and From This Day On, can still break the heart sixty years later.

The original cast are featured, although prominent roles played by James Mitchell, William Hansen and George Keane don’t exist here because their characters never sang.

Lerner made Marion Bell, the show’s leading lady, his second wife in 1947, but they divorced in 1949.

This collection also includes Arthur Fiedler’s 1950 Boston Pops Medley From Brigadoon. It was arranged by Leroy Anderson and – in addition to six songs from the show, it also includes a goodly chunk of Anderson’s own Irish Suite. Who knows? Perhaps one day he intuited that Brigadoon would be matched up with Finian’s Rainbow. It seems like destiny has wanted that to happen from the start.

Richard Ouzounian

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