On a Clear Day You Can See Forever
Lyricist-librettist Alan Jay Lerner once admitted it was wiser to adapt existing material for the musical stage than to start from scratch, so he’d likely have no objection to director Michael Mayer and librettist Peter Parnell’s revisal of his troubled 1965 musical On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, now at the St. James Theater. Better still, this version, happily starring Harry Connick Jr., is in many ways an improvement on the original.
The focus of Parnell’s script is now on 42-year-old psychiatrist Mark Bruckner (Connick), who takes on as a patient a 29-year-old gay florist’s assistant named David Gamble (David Turner) — not the previously female Daisy Gamble — who is desperate to stop smoking.
Once under hypnosis, David quickly reveals he has lived at least one prior life as a 1940s jazz singer named Melinda Wells (Jessie Mueller) who proves to have great man-woman appeal for the widowed Dr. Bruckner. Accordingly, Bruckner asks David to come back for repeated sessions, which causes some confusion on the young man’s part.
One of the good things about Parnell’s script is that David and Bruckner now both have reasons to heal symbiotically through the unorthodox therapy they’re sharing. The surreal situation also ultimately proves beneficial to David’s neglected lawyer boyfriend, Warren Smith (Drew Gehling), and Bruckner’s romantically frustrated colleague, Dr. Sharone Stein (Kerry O’Malley).
Enhancing this Clear Day is the stirring score by Lerner and Burton Lane, which now includes some (but not all) of the original Broadway show’s tunes (including “Melinda,” “Come Back to Me” and the title song), a few ditties written for (and in one case cut from) the 1970 Barbra Streisand film version, and a quartet of tunes from the team’s 1951 film Royal Wedding, including the Oscar-nominated “Too Late Now.”
Connick, an instinctive stage performer, brings humor and depth to the likable yet troubled Bruckner. He also does more uninterrupted crooning here than when he is his more loose-jointed self, having been handed a fair share of the score. (For the record, Connick never goes near a piano, even if some fans may miss his inspired tinkling.)
The jazz warbling is handed to Broadway debutante Mueller, whose consistent spunk is a delight and whose pipes instantly explain why she was cast. (She earns the evening’s biggest applause during her second-act showstopper “Ev’ry Night at Seven.”) The thin, kinetic Turner grabs “What Did I Have…?” to prove that whatever he had he still has as the timid-turned-intrepid David, while O’Malley, Gehling, and Sarah Stiles, as David’s BFF Muriel, take scene-stealing turns.
Unfortunately, this Clear Day — now set in 1974 — has its share of drawbacks, the foremost being Christine Jones’ optical-illusion set and Catherine Zuber’s too-often-matching optical-illusion duds.
Breaking up the ravishing opening number, “Hurry! It’s Lovely Up Here!” to insert scenes of dialogue is a bad idea and indicative of the unwise fiddling with some of the show’s other songs.
And whether Parnell realizes it or not, supplying David with a female predecessor may suggest to some that his past life is an explanation for gay behavior. Moreover, it implies that the clearly heterosexual Bruckner also has unexplored sexual leanings. Surely, that’s not what’s wanted for a show that sets out to entertain — and so often does exactly that.