"How Are Things In Glocca Morra?" - The Ingredients of Character Songs
How do you evoke nostalgia for a location when the place that must warm your audience's heart is but a mythical land in the mind of a dreamer? "How Are Things In Glocca Morra?" from Finian's Rainbow does just that with an Old World-style folk melody and simple imagery that conjurs pictures of friendly breezes, dancing rivers, and songbirds bringing "cheerin' words." Lyricist E.Y. Harburg was always a genius with an agenda, though not every word scribed by him was politically motivated with the socialist bent that he was known and ridiculed for. In fact, this song captures the idealistic, wistful side of Harburg. His agenda here is in line with another one of his lyric masterpieces "Over the Rainbow," and that is to transport the audience into the illusion of a seemingly perfect world that he ultimately concedes cannot be attained externally, but must be found in our hearts.
Finian McClonergan has just arrived in America from his home of Ireland with a get rich scheme that involves planting a pot of stolen leprechaun gold near Fort Knox in the hope that it will grow and yield a bumper crop . In tow is his more practical daughter Sharon who is skeptical of his plot and who has become weary after following her father across an ocean. When she decalares her frustration, Finian tries to sell Sharon on America by helping her see that their memories of Ireland will follow them anywhere they go. Cue composer Burton Lane's gentle, longing melody and "How Are Things In Glocca Morra" sweeps us to this imaginary world inside Finian's head as before our eyes Sharon softens and embraces the fantasy.
"How Are Things in Glocca Morra" is a textbook example of how great musical theatre can achieve many things at one time. It establishes time and place, emotion, character, and mood, all within the confines of a simple song. It uses imagery we all relate to, manipulating us to feel as nostalgic for Finian's imaginary place as he does. The story becomes our shared experience. This is musical theatre perfection.