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‘A Rainbow in Ev’ry Pot’: Southern excess, racial liberalism, and living large in Harburg and Lane’s Finian’s Rainbow

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When Yip Harburg and Burton Lane wrote their 1947 musical Finian’s Rainbow, they imagined the piece as a vehicle for a host of social justice concerns. Specifically, Harburg created the fictional place of Missitucky and its inhabitants to directly comment upon race and labour conditions in the American South. Yet despite his good intentions, Harburg’s efforts resulted in a musical full of more ambiguity and anxiety than resolution or happy endings. This article focuses on the character of Senator Bill ‘Billboard’ Rawkins to examine how Harburg’s attempts to use the musical as a platform for social justice resulted in the creation of a larger-than-life character full of contradictions. Through the lens of racial liberalism and critical race theory, this article considers Finian’s Rainbow as an important text that expresses the tensions present in Golden Age-era attempts to harness the performative power of the musical towards social justice ends.
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Keywords: Finian’s Rainbow; body as text; race theory; racial liberalism; racial transformation; southern identity

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Auburn University

Publication date: March 1, 2016

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