Bayou City Concert Musicals' Finian's Rainbow a Magical Romp

The setup: Always a highly anticipated event, Paul Hope's Bayou City Concert Musicals' annual production sets its cap this year on a classic show not seen around these parts in decades: Burton Lane, Fred Saidy and E.Y. Harburg's utterly fetching social/political fantasy from 1947 about leprechauns, capitalism, a buried pot of gold, a bigoted senator who's turned black and, that old standby, love. Under the spell of its consistently beguiling score performed by its equally beguiling cast, the show is an absolute delight.

The execution: "Follow the fellow who follows his dream," sings Finian's daughter Sharon (Beth Lazarou), who has accompanied old dad (Charles Krohn) to America, where he thinks he can bury a stolen pot of gold near Fort Knox and make it grow. Isn't this what America's all about? This is a people's musical, and the sharecroppers, black and white, make up an integrated community that sets this musical apart. Not since the grand days of Show Boat has a show used such a provocative chorus, nor such controversial themes as segregation and racial prejudice as cause for comedy. Throw in Og (Mark Ivy), a leprechaun chasing his purloined pot of gold and becoming more human by the minute, and a mute role, Susan the Silent (Christina Elder), who dances her dialogue, and the show, unlike any other musical, becomes completely captivating.

Hope, his team (choreographers Krissy Richmond, Melissa Pritchett, Rob Flebbe; costumer Pat Padilla; musical director Michael Mertz and maestro Dominique Royem) and the nimble cast make us totally believe in magic. When vile Senator Rawkins (Rutherford Cravens) gets wished into black (Anthony Boggess-Glover) and then joins the jive traveling quartet, the Gospeleers, it's so right -- and funny, as is their showstopper, "The Begat" -- that we merrily go along with the fantastic spoof.

Known for insightful performances with Masquerade and Theater LaB, Lazarou with her golden pipes brings a womanly quality to Sharon, filling her with quicksilver little glances and smiles, especially when she falls for rabble-rouser Woody (Cole Ryden). Ryden has golden pipes, too, evidenced in his crooning of "Old Devil Moon" and the lively "If This Isn't Love." Krohn, an Alley Theatre veteran, though old enough to be Sharon's grandfather, immediately puts us under his spry spell and maneuvers us right into his waiting palm, where we happily remain. The real magic is performed by Mr. Ivy, as leprechaun Og, who sparkles with vocal inflections, a sprightly kick of his heels and stage presence to spare. Exuding his own brand of quirky pixie dust, he positively twinkles, about as close to a leprechaun as we'll ever see.

The verdict: Known almost entirely through its tuneful, witty score, this rare show is the perfect opening to Houston's fall theater season. Entertaining, with a message that lifts us high indeed, BCCM's production is its own rainbow: rare, bright and magical to behold. Through September 11. Heinen Theatre, 3517 Austin St. 713-465-6484.

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