David Turner Makes It Perfectly Clear
David Turner is no stranger to Broadway, having starred on the Great White Way in In My Life, The Ritz, and Arcadia, but he’s now making his strongest impression yet as Davey Gamble in the revival of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, opposite Harry Connick Jr. Turner recently spoke to TheaterMania about his work in this controversial reworking of the classic Alan Jay Lerner-Burton Lane musical.
THEATERMANIA: You were first cast in this show in April 2010, so how does it feel to have finally made it to Broadway?
DAVID TURNER: I definitely feel a sort of post-partum depression. I get so interested in the storytelling, and having had a year and a half to get under the hood and tinker with the show and advocate for my character’s arc, it’s been a difficult shift to just playing Davey.
TM: But there must be some joy in it as well?
DT: Of course. I certainly never thought I’d be in this sort of musical. I’ve always self-identified as a shower singer. And about 10 years ago, my family and I drove by the St. James Theatre, where we are now, and my stepfather said, “someday, you’re going to star in a musical on that stage,” and we thought it was the funniest thing ever.
TM: Davey is a tricky character — he’s sort of neurotic, unhappy, even willing to cheat on his wonderful boyfriend, but ultimately likeable. What made you want to play him?
DT: I thought there was this essential paradox. There is something wrong enough with him that he has to be integrated with Melinda to be happy, but if there was too much wrong with him — if he is as uninteresting and ineffectual as they say — then why would the audience want to spend time with him? I hope what we ended up with is someone who begins with diffidence and ends up with self-confidence.
TM: In the original show in 1965, Davey was Daisy, but you’re still singing songs that were written for a woman — and sung by Barbara Harris and Barbra Streisand. What kind of challenge has that been for you?
DT: I went to the BMI workshop for songwriting, and I’ve written for both men and women. And yes, I am singing songs written for women, and the fact is, people write melodies differently for women, because of the break in the voice. And yes, these songs are rangy for men. But ultimately, we just had to find the right key.
TM: Perhaps the biggest change is that now we have a central romance between two gay men, Davey and Warren. How does it feel to be telling that story eight times a week on Broadway?
DT: I do think it’s important to tell that story and I feel quite honored to be part of it. I love that it’s not overly sexualized and it’s not campy — name another story like that — and I believe that kids are going to come to see this show and see this sweet gay couple. I do hope audiences leave feeling that Davey and Warren are meant to be together. His transgression is the hardest thing for me to play. True love and constancy are what we all want in our lives. I think it helps audiences see that part of themselves that might do what Davey does because it’s Harry Connick, but on the other hand, my co-star Drew Gehling is so wonderful that audiences must wonder why Davey just doesn’t stay with him. I think it’s because Davey thinks he doesn’t deserve it.
TM: The show is now set in 1974. Are you enjoying wearing the clothes of that time period?
DT: First, 1974 was the year I was born, so I am basically playing my father at age 30, and there’s a great sense of continuity there. As for the clothes, our costume designer Cathy Zuber and I have collaborated before, and she’s extremely sensitive to how actors view their bodies. I think she can dress me like a mannequin — I have a model’s body but not the face, so we can do the bell bottoms and the waist and all that. It’s been fun to visit that time period.
TM: You did two pre-Broadway workshops of the show, in which Brian d’Arcy James and then Marc Kudisch played Dr. Bruckner. Then five weeks before your first Broadway preview, you start working with Harry Connick Jr. What has that experience been like?
DT: I am usually such a loser around big stars, and I just cannot keep my wits around people I admire. Strangely, Harry didn’t have that effect, even though he’s everything I admire. We even both play piano. The truth is he felt like an older brother to me as soon as we met. He is so much fun, and we make each other laugh all the time. I think maybe we would have gotten more done in rehearsal if we didn’t laugh so much. But no one could stop us. Seeing him is the best part of my day.
TM: Tell me what you think about Jessie Mueller, who plays Melinda.
DT: Her gifts are beyond reproach, and I am thrilled that New York can finally see what Chicago has long known. As a person, she couldn’t be lovelier. And she is so professional and she can handle stress at any level. As for that voice, of course, I was jealous when I heard it for the first time; what honest person wouldn’t be. I was just blown away!
TM: The reaction to the show has been very mixed. How do you feel about that?
DT: All I can say is that I hope people appreciate the daring approach that Michael Mayer and Peter Parnell and all of us have taken and realize it’s a good faith effort. And personally, I would rather watch something daring and complex — rather than something perfect and fluff — any day of the week.