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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the St. James


  David Turner and Drew Gehling/ Ph: Paul Kolnik

Credit the creative team behind the first-ever reincarnation of the beguiling, befuddling 1965 flop for not taking the easy way out – for not just dusting off Alan Jay Lerner’s stuck-in-time book and finding a musical theater phenomenon to sell it the Lerner and Burton Lane songs, as Barbara Harris did in the original production and Barbra Streisand did in the 1970 film. Make that a musical theater phenomenon of the feminine persuasion: Front and center this time is Harry Connick, Jr., as the show’s psychiatrist character is repositioned as its lead, and his patient, adrift in past life regression therapy is split into two halves, one male, and one female.
In short, Michael Mayer (credited as “re-conceiver and director”) and book writer Peter Parnell (of the stage version of The Cider House Rules) have not given us your mother’s On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. They’ve put it on the couch and gone deeper, moving the show up a decade to New York in the swinging 70s, and then pulling it back to the 40s. Daisy, the addled analysand, has become David (David Turner), a chain-smoking floral arranger who consults Mark Bruckner (Connick, Jr.) to cure his addiction, and begins to find the doctor habit-forming. The feeling is mutual, as, under hypnosis, David becomes Melinda (Jessie Mueller), a big -band singer in 1943 who gives the despondent doc, a widower, a reason to live. The gay twist, reminiscent of Prelude to a Kiss, is a controversial departure, and several audience members left at intermission, well before Connick, Jr., and company got to the title tune.
My advice is to stick it out, and not just to hear that one standard. Yes, the adapters have pulled apart the show, even adding songs from another Lerner musical, the 1951 movie Royal Wedding. But Lerner, who was fascinated by parapsychology, wrote it in the spirit of inquiry, and this “revisal” extends that open-mindedness, even if it creates other problems. Bruckner uses David to get to Melinda, an uncomfortable dilemma, veering on psychic rape, that the show acknowledges but is forced to stuff back into its musical-theater jewel box. Which is not a bad place for it to be, allowing as it does at least one delightful number, “You’re All the World to Me,” where the three performers sing and dance in unison.
In overhauling the show Mayer hasn’t forgotten that it is first and foremost a musical, and the three leads are appealing. Connick, Jr. has the difficult task of making the string-pulling Bruckner relatable, which he overcomes through his way with a song. (Star power has considerable uses.) Toying with stereotype, Turner finds tenderness beneath David’s funny, frazzled exterior, and Mueller, a Chicago import, is sensational as Melinda, brassy yet warm. There’s nary a weak link in the supporting cast, either, though the central triangle is so compelling there’s a certain superfluousness to the surrounding romantic and professional complications.
The one element your mother will recognize is, alas, the design. Scenic designer Christine Jones and lighting designer Kevin Adams, Tony winners for Mayer’s American Idiot, have conspired with costume designer Catherine Zuber to turn the otherwise spartanly furnished set into something like your room and clothes closet in the Ford era, a riot of queasily patterned and colored panels and outfits that intensify at every turn. Whatever On a Clear Day You Can See Forever needed to look like, it wasn’t an episode of Laugh-In. Those 70s flashbacks aside, Forever has been retooled into something with currency for today. 


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