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ClassicsOnline Home » LANE: Finian's Rainbow / LOEWE: Brigadoon (Original Broadway Cast) (1947)
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
How were the two shows alike? Well, they
each offered the flavour of Celtic Britain: Ireland
from Finian’s Rainbow and Scotland from
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
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
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
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.
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LANE: Finian's Rainbow / LOEWE: Brigadoon (Origina...