It’s a testament to Dan Finnerty’s prodigious talent that when he sings “My Heart Will Go On” at the climax of his autobiographical musical Little Orphan Danny, he makes the most overplayed song of the past two decades feel fresh and triumphant. Celine Dion is a patron saint of sorts in this irreverent and touching story, serving as a catalyst for reuniting Finnerty and his birth mother thanks to a rather amazing coincidence. When he launches into her familiar, cheesy hit, he turns it into a moment of celebratory joy that made me want to cheer.
Finnerty has a way with cheese. The leader of The Dan Band, he’s best known for his covers of songs by female artists–memorably singing “Total Eclipse of the Heart” at Will Ferell’s character’s wedding in the movie Old School.
In Little Orphan Danny, he narrates his coming of age struggles as a chubby, adopted kid with parents who don’t quite know what to make of him. His adopted mother Pat is there throughout his growing pains, always consulting her reference book What to Expect When You’re Expecting an Orphan for tips on how to handle incidents including the misguided murder mystery party he hosted for his classmates. Although Pat has a solution for everything Dan throws her way–she saved the party with ice cream–his eventual relationship with his birth mother Peg finally pushes this straightlaced Catholic lady to her breaking point. When she swears for the first time, its a wonderful moment of release.
Julie Foldesi plays both Pat and Peg, as well as Finnerty’s wife and several members of his birth parents’ families. Her character switches are signalled with quick costume changes such as the addition of a hair clip or glasses, and it works effortlessly. She is superb in her solo numbers, giving unique and equal voices to both mothers.
The play is another winner in what has proved to be a terrific season at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre. I can’t wait to see what comes next!
–Amy Roeder, Cohort
Little Orphan Danny runs March 21 – April 15