You might be able to see forever on a clear day, but you won’t want to in this poorly conceived musical revival/re-imaging currently in performances at the St. James Theater.
First seen on Broadway in 1965, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, with songs by Burton Lane and a book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, has been since known for its lovely songs and equally convoluted plot. The original plot concerned Daisy, a young woman with ESP who could make flowers grow on command. She visits psychiatrist Dr. Mark Bruckner for help in quitting smoking. When under hypnosis, she reveals a past life as Melinda Wells, a royal woman from the 18th century. Mark promptly falls for Melinda while Daisy falls for Mark, and an unusual love triangle ensues.
Re-imaged by director Michael Mayer with help of playwright Peter Parnell, Daisy is now David, a gay florist’s assistant who meets Dr. Bruckner when attending his roommate’s psychiatry class. Incredibly susceptible to hypnosis, David seeks Mark’s help in quitting his cigarette habit because his boyfriend is allergic to smoke. When under hypnosis, Melinda appears, this time a 1940’s jazz singer (beautifully played by Jessie Mueller in a stunning breakout performance).
Mark falls for Melinda, who lures him out the grief he feels for his lost wife. David falls for Mark, David’s boyfriend Warren (Drew Gehling, woefully underused) wants David to move in with him, and Mark’s colleague Sharone pines for him from a distance. It’s a complicated plot to say the least, but it never gels completely and the characters do not register as fully formed people. As a result, they do not inspire the audience’s sympathy or support.
In his second starring role on Broadway, Harry Connick Jr. is unfortunately miscast as Mark. Connick plays Mark’s grief for his lost wife in a quiet, understated performance, and all of the onstage charm and charisma that earned him a Tony Award nomination in The Pajama Game is lost in the process. His swoon-inducing croon is still put to use in a few songs but it never reaches the level he is known – and probably was cast – for. “Come Back To Me,” Mark’s passionate psychic plea to David to return to his office, could be an incredibly powerful love song but Connick’s rendition, in which he duets with Gehling while leaping around his office furniture, is disappointingly flat and unemotional.
As David, the charming David Turner gives a spirited performance in an underwritten role. He is about to turn 30, is reluctant to commit to his boyfriend and is scared to branch out professionally and open his own flower shop. His character is an interesting contrast to Melinda, who possesses all of the confidence and charisma that David lacks. Turner is an agreeable presence onstage, possesses a powerful voice and belts his songs with heart, but that is actually a detriment to his second-act attempt at a showstopper, “What Did I Have That I Don’t Have?” The song loses all meaning when sung by a man about his past life as a woman, and Turner’s efforts only enhance the silliness.
The duo role of Daisy and Melinda was a terrific starring part and a great vehicle for an actress, but splitting it between two different people makes it much less interesting. One of the few creative and amusing moments the trio inspires occurs when Mark and Melinda dance a lovely duet together, and David (still under hypnosis) joins in. Thankfully, Mueller’s performance as Melinda is a powerful, star-making part. In her Broadway debut, Mueller plays the spunky, spirited Melinda capably and brings a fantastic vivacity to the songs. Several numbers from Royal Wedding were added to the show, and Mueller’s jazzy rendition of “Ev’ry Night at Seven” is the definitive highlight of the show.
As Warren, David’s patiently devoted boyfriend, Gehling is underused. I found him to be a much more interesting character than David, (though that’s not saying much), and his few solo moments of singing were a pleasure to hear. Sarah Stiles chews the scenery hungrily as David’s roommate, giving an endearing but shrill and a bit too cutesy, performance. And Erin O’Malley fills the flat, flat shoes of David’s devoted colleague.
Unfortunately, no matter how talented the cast is, they are forced to wear the much-too-bright costumes by Catherine Zuber and perform on the equally garish sets by Christine Jones. (The bright, swirling colors were meant to channel the aesthetics of the 1970s, but instead they merely inspire headaches.)
Perhaps the bright hues were meant to detract from the gaping plot holes of this reincarnated show. The bottom line is that the new plot twist, with Mark falling in love with Melinda in David’s body, simply does not work. He is taken by Melinda’s vivacious spirit but also by her voice. But if she was a past life of David’s, Bruckner would hear David’s voice, not Melinda’s, singing. And the fact that Mark’s behavior is incredibly unethical, not to mention unprofessional, is only briefly touched upon in a scolding by his colleagues.
It’s understandable why one would want to re-imagine On A Clear Day You Can See Forever. The idea of love crossing space and time is undeniably dramatic and appealing and the songs are tunefully hummable. Unfortunately, this production does not do the songs, or the ideas, justice.