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A CurtainUp Review
On a Clear Day You Can See Forever
By Elyse Sommer
A note for those of you who saw On a Clear Day. . . during its 280 performance run at the Mark Hellinger Theater, from October 1965 to 1966, the production now at the St. James Theater falls into the musical theater category that's come to be known as "revisical." I didn't see the semi successful 1965 Broadway production with John Cullum and Barbara Harris; and, not being particularly fond of ESP stories, even Barbara Streissand and Yves Montand weren't enough reason for me to see the film adaptation.
I therefore can't really compare On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, as re-conceived and staged by director Michael Mayer and with a book by Peter Parnell, with the one praised for Allan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane's songs but panned for Lerner's book. However, given his terrific staging of Spring Awakening and American Idiot, if anyone can bring out the very best in a show and make a half-full cup of entertainment filled to the brim, Mayer's the man. At least I thought he was.
Mayer and Parnell's motive for undertaking this new take on the show is admirable enough — to surround the Lerner and Lane songs with a better, more believable and entertaining story than the one concocted by Lerner. That story made Dr. Mark Bruckner, the main character, a renowned hypnotist and had him fall in love with one of the long-ago personas into which a patient seeking help with a heavy duty smoking habit metamorphoses while in a trance.
Dr. Bruckner's credentials have been upgraded to that of a psychiatrist who happens to have a way with hypnotism. The romantic triangle now splits the patient's present day and reincarnated personas into two roles: In the present, we have a man (David Turner) who is a homosexual with commitment as well as smoking issues and going backwards he morphs into a 1940s jazz singer (Jessie Mueller). Maybe Mayer and Parnell, instead pf clinging to the threads of the original should have just thrown out the entire story, because this new version is still a case of hanging some nice show tunes on a silly, unbelievable story, and, worse still, with characters who are boring.
Boring?!? With Dr. Bruckner played by the multi-talented Harry Connick Jr. so spectacular five years ago in the revival of The Pajama Game and in 1990 proving himself a Broadway crowd please with a concert similar to this season's hotter than hot Hugh Jackman right across the street from the St. James?
Yes, boring! In fact Connick, except when he's lending his Sinatra-esque pipes to a song, is the most boring character on stage. Much of this is due to his being miscast as the confused doctor who mostly stands around watching the other actors. At times it seems that Connick has managed to put himself, and not just Turner's David Gamble, into a trance.
Unfortunately, not just is the revised book all wrong, but so is Mayer's direction. His capable and hard working cast can do just so much with their characters, though Jessie Mueller is impressive enough in her Broadway debut as the distaff half of the romantic triangle to make one anxious to see her again.
The op art scenery with its constantly changing and often garish colors by the usually outstanding Christine Jones does more to irritate the eyes than support the plot. Catherine Zuber, another top drawer designer, uses the 1970s time frame to hobble the actors not just with a clunky book but with unattractive outfits.
While some of the songs, especially in the second act, are indeed lovely, everything is over-miked and over-reprised (7 reprises!). Maybe a concert with Connick and Ms. Mueller would have worked better. As it stands, this "revisical," to quote from its title tune, gos on forever. . . And ever. . .and ever. . . and ever.
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