Fantastic Finian's Rainbow and Mr. Fox

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

During intermission at a recent performance of Finian's Rainbow, I looked into the orchestra pit to find a musician, Wayne Goodman, anticipating Act II as much as I was. Marvelling at Burton Lane's great songs, including such classics as "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?" "Look to the Rainbow," and "Old Devil Moon," the trombonist pointed out that this 1947 show with a leprechaun, crock of gold, and three wishes had real magic in the prescient lyrics by Yip Harburg and book by Harburg and Fred Saidy. Yip Harburg, who also wrote The Wizard of Oz with its signature "Over the Rainbow," influenced generations of musicals. So why aren't we talking about Yip Harburg the way we talk about the Gershwins or Irving Berlin? That question may remain a mystery, even as we are awed by this outstanding late '40's entertainment and its first-rate revival at the St. James Theater. Old-fashioned as it seems among so many musicals that play like cabaret revues, this one has a rich story, and resonance for views that prevail today, providing more than a laugh, as when Woody Mahoney (a fine and magnetic Cheyenne Jackson) says that a little yellow paper is better than money -- it's credit, or when a bigoted town official says, "My whole family has been having trouble with immigrants ever since we came to this country." The Finian of the title (the superb Jim Norton, Tony awarded last season for The Seafarer) arrives in Missitucky, near Fort Knox with his daughter Sharon (a gorgeous red-headed Kate Baldwin), having appropriated the crock of gold from a leprechaun (Christopher Fitzgerald). The ensuing mayhem includes a white man turned black, a green one turned white, a bride accused of witchcraft exonerated, a mute dancer given voice, and a town gone gaga "On That Great Come and Get It Day" regaining its values, hope, and love. Never has calico been so appealing.

Also surprising in its appeal is the matted fur of Mr. Fox in the movie version of Roald Dahl's classic, voiced by George Clooney reprising his role as Danny Ocean, a wily schemer in good suits. Maybe that's why dioramas of his woodsy world adorn the windows of Bergdorf Goodman's Men's Store on Fifth Avenue. Ophelia Dahl greeted guests at the Paris Theater premiere this week, recounting how at age five her father would tell them this tale. She also introduced her mother, the Academy Award winning Patricia Neal as well as the cast: Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, chef Mario Batalli, Eric Anderson, and director Wes Anderson and his writing partner Noah Baumbach. Grown-ups and kids alike marveled at Mr. Fox's antics in stop-action animation. He shines in his shenanigans, now a family man-er, Fox, pulling one last caper, imperiling his community of rabbits, rodents, and other wild life. Among the delighted guests at the after party hosted by Quintessentially and Partners in Health: James Toback and his son Andre, a pregnant Jennifer Jason Leigh, director/writer Oren Moverman, and actors Woody Harrelson, Ben Foster from the excellent film The Messenger. Willem Dafoe wandered in after the evening performance of Idiot Savant at the Public. Fisher Stevens, Lillian Ross, Nora Ephron and Nick Pileggi mingled with cast and crew. And what was served at Rouge Tomate's buffet dinner along with duck and red cabbage? Well, field greens of course.