Fasten your seatbelts. For everyone who loved the original On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, I’ve got to warn you: there’ve been some changes made. And if you thought the plot of the original show was a little tough to follow…
Let’s give it a whirl. To begin with, the year is 1974, complete with bellbottoms; and Daisy, the original heroine who was the reincarnation of Melinda, is now David (David Turner), who wants to quit smoking so he can be honest with his boyfriend, Warren (Drew Gehling). So, on the advice of his friend Muriel (Sarah Stiles), David attends a lecture being given by a brooding psychiatrist, Mark (Harry Connick, Jr.), and finds himself easily hypnotized. Mark reluctantly starts treating David, only to find himself falling in love with Melinda (Jessie Mueller), the Big Band singer David becomes when, under hypnosis, he regresses back to a former life in the 1940’s. David starts falling for Mark, and ignoring Warren. Mark’s colleague, Sharone (Kerry O’Malley) is also in love with Mark, and warns him that he’s risking his career by getting involved with David. Mark assures her that he’s certainly not in love with David; it’s OK, because he’s in love with Melinda, and no longer pining for his dead wife.
The credits tell us the show has been reconceived, as well as directed, by Michael Mayer, so be prepared for other changes as well. The order of musical numbers is different, and they are sometimes sung by different characters. In addition, songs have been added from Barbra Streisand’s 1970 film version, and from composers Lerner and Lane’s 1951 Fred Astaire movie, Royal Wedding. (That’s the one where he dances on the ceiling). The best of these additions is the hauntingly beautiful “Too Late Now.” Incidentally, don’t worry; the estates of Lerner and Lane are totally on board with the current production.
There are 1970’s period references thrown in, Pippin, Truman Capote, Bewitched. For good measure, there’s also the modern day question about why gay people shouldn’t be allowed to marry and “have what everyone else has.”
None of this would matter without the three spectacularly good actors playing the leads. First and foremost is the totally irresistible Harry Connick, Jr. I will sail past the requisite “wild about Harry” observation, and ask simply: With Hugh Jackman appearing just across the way, how is it that 44th Street hasn’t spontaneously combusted? Connick can do no wrong onstage. Yes, there are the inevitable Sinatra comparisons being whispered through the lobby at intermission, but the truth is, this Pride of New Orleans has a romantic style all his own. For a great moment in this production, watch Connick enjoying Mueller sing.
Jessie Mueller brings to life a Melinda anyone would love. She reminds me so much of Judy Garland at her best. She’s gorgeous, her voice is terrific, and she looks amazing in the costumes Catherine Zuber has designed for her. Done up in warm shades of orange, red, and purple, the outfits perfectly compliment Melinda’s auburn hair and vibrant manner.
The role of David could have gone horribly wrong were it not for the boundless charm and skill of David Turner. Exuberant and heart breaking by turns, with masterful comic timing, Turner hits it out of the ballpark with his spotlight number, “What Did I Have That I Don’t Have.” He moves so well, I would have loved to have seen him really dance.
In fact, the awkward and minimal dance routines are a major drawback to the production, as are the spare sets. Some of the numbers, particularly the clumsy rendition of “When I’m Being Born Again,” which is shouted rather than sung, detract from the show. And why is there no flash forward at the end?
But there’s no doubt in my mind that the leading players make up for this presentation’s deficiencies. Will this version see the light of day after the current run closes, or will the original prevail in summer stock and community theater around the country? Only time, that most elusive of elements, will tell.
On A Clear Day You Can See Forever
St. James Theatre
246 West 44th Street
Michall Jeffers is an accomplished Cultural Journalist. She writes extensively, both in print and online. Her eponymous cable TV show is syndicated throughout the tri-state area, and features celebrity interviews, reviews, and commentary. She is a voting member of Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, American Theatre Critics Association, and International Association of Theatre Critics.