Finian’s Rainbow opened to critical and popular acclaim on January 10th, 1947, at the 46th Street Theater in New York City. E.Y Harburg had both the initial inspiration for the show and credits as librettist and lyricist, with Fred Saidy as co-writer on the libretto and music by Burton Lane. The show won three Tonys; notably, David Wayne as Og received the first ever Best Supporting Actor in a Musical Award, while Milton Rosenstock took home a Tony for Best Conductor and Musical Director and Michael Kidd the award for Choreography. Members of the original cast include Ella Logan as Sharon, Albert Sharpe as Finian, and Donald Richards as Woody. The show ran for 725 performances.
The show has been revived on Broadway numerous times in the past 60 years, including three times by the New York City Center Light Opera Co., (1955, 1960, and 1967), and off-Broadway by the New York City Center in 2009 as a concert version, which went on to be a fully staged Broadway production, opening October 29th, 2009, at the St James Theater. This most recent revival starred Jim Norton as Finian, Kate Baldwin as Sharon, and Cheyenne Jackson as Woody, and Christopher Fitzgerald as Og, who won both a Tony as Outstanding Featured Actor, and a Drama Desk Award in the same category. This time, the show was not a popular success, and ran for only three months, closing on January 17th, 2010.
In 1968, a film version starring Fred Astaire as Finian, Petula Clark as Sharon, Tommy Steele as Og, Don Francks as Woody, and Keenan Wynne as Senator Rawkins, was released. Production was also begun in 1954 on an animated version, which would have featured among many others the vocal talents of Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and Louis Armstrong, but financing was withdrawn when members of the creative team, prominently including E.Y. Harburg, refused to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities.
It was this liberal mindset which was the seed for the musical Finian’s Rainbow. E.Y. Harburg was initially inspired by his feelings of rage at racist speeches by members of Congress in the 1940s, and thought about writing a show in which a bigoted politician turned black, and had to experience life under his own harsh rule. Further inspiration came after reading the novel Crock of Gold by James Stephens, and the combination of racial/economic politics and Irish fairy tale produced a show with both a social conscience and a sense of humour. The 1947 production was the first show on Broadway in which black and white performers danced together at the same time.