Monday, April 16, 2012

“On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” (On a Clear Gay…)

Review by Nic Dris

Photos by Paul Kolnik/Nicole Rivelli

You have to understand first and foremost that this is a musical comedy. The odds are the score will be a blast, the performances will be comedic, and yes, sometimes things may be far fetched and come out of left field --- but that’s part of the wit and charm of the musical comedy, right? You understand it? Good. Let’s move on.

What can be described as a magical modern day fairy tale (Burton Lane, you do have a knack for the genre), On a Clear Day You Can See Forever brings us to New York City 1974. Flower power. Rebellious. Sexual and yes, there’s a bit of Freud in there too. David Gamble (David Turner) is in a committed relationship with his starry-eyed lawyer Warren Smith (Drew Gehling) and Warren has just asked David to move in with him -- the ultimate commitment for a gay couple in 1974. There’s one snag though! David can’t quit smoking and Warren thinks he’s quit already. That could pose as a problem when a man asks you to move in with him. Enter the widower Dr. Mark Bruckner (Harry Connick Jr.) who tries to hypnotize David out of his smoking habit, but ends up conjuring David’s past life/self Melinda Wells (Jessie Mueller) instead. No harm though. It’s not a foreign concept for a gay man to act like a woman, except that Dr. Mark begins to fall for Melinda and cure his lonely heart more so than David’s smoking habit.

Director Michael Mayer has reconceived this production from its original storyline where our character David Gamble was once played off as the lead female character Daisy. Mayer tries to bring a more modern approach to the story by spinning the core storyline on a 1970s gay man’s quirky life instead. Michael Mayer does this so successfully. Honestly, I can’t imagine this musical being as charmingly wonderful. Not to mention, how the stakes have risen for the character of Dr. Mark Bruckner in this incarnation. Think about it. A 1970s heterosexual widowed doctor falling for a gorgeous 1940s jazz singer, inside a gay man’s body. That’s theatrical conflict if you’ve ever witnessed it.

David Turner plays a coy and sweet David Gamble who you can’t help but fall for. His sweet, bouncy personality echoes well later on when we meet his past life/1940s jazz sensation, Melinda Wells. Jessie Mueller is a fresh breath of air to musical theater. Her breakout performance can only be described as a revelation. Her versatility with Burton Lane’s score soars from jazz up tempo numbers to gorgeous torch songs. Mueller’s vocal versatility, charming demeanor, and undeniable stage presence will no doubt advance her career beyond this production. Much like his past life’s energy, David Turner brings it to a new level with the famous 11 o’clock number, “What Did I Have That I Don’t Have?” This character, who comes off a bit insecure for most of the show, finally finds the guts and the glory to take charge of his life and MAKE a decision in this metamorphosis of a song. Filling the stage with this energy, this power, this roar of a voice, David Turner showed you that his character, Gamble, still might have whatever he had before.

Other notables include one of Broadway’s sweethearts, the gentle and considerate Kerry O’Malley playing Dr. Sharone Stein. Stein needs a prescription for her lovesick heart for Dr. Mark Brucker, but that didn’t come off so well. In all of Michael Mayer’s intelligent decisions to re-envision this piece with book writer Peter Parnell, I wish they had written more material for Ms. O’Malley. There was a powerfully intrinsic quartet towards the end of the second act, “S(He) Wasn’t You,” where our four lovers sing about wanting one another. I believed it between every combination except for Dr. Mark and Dr. Sharone. Perhaps if Mayer had included a sweet, positive musical number such as Warren Smith’s love song, “Love With All the Trimmings” to his beloved David, O’Malley’s character would have worked more positively.

So there were parts that made no sense and came out of left field. I’ll admit it. When David Gamble’s boyfriend, Warren Smith, jumps into an infectiously joyous number “Wait Till We’re Sixty-Five”, joined by an ensemble of jubilant college kids? Yes. I was a little lost. The thing about Burton Lane’s score though is that no matter how left field it is (Finian’s Rainbow, anyone?), you can’t help but grin and enjoy it. It’s the magic of his music. You can hum the tunes. You remember the tunes and at times, you want to join in on the tunes. Lane is magical like that.

Burton Lane’s whimsical score and Alan Jay Lerner’s poignant lyrics transpired into this fairy of a production, which was brought even more real by its production team.

Though Christine Jones’ set was a little over the top at times, her period styling’s lent itself to the musical comedy aspect well and brought a quirky feel to the set. Zuber’s costumes found solid colorings to complement and contrast characters and their environment well. Kevin Adams, as always, creates an extraordinarily whimsical environment with the lighting he befalls onto his actors. The collaboration between these three brings an extreme version of the 1970s, but this is an extreme story so the mood is called for.

I know. You’ve noticed that I haven’t mentioned much about the elephant in the room, Harry Connick Jr. With good reason. Granted the character Dr. Mark Bruckner is meant to be the straight man of the piece (literally, with this incarnation!), Connick left me feeling a bit underwhelmed by what he had to offer. Harry Connick Jr. does a very good job playing himself. We all love Harry Connick Jr. He brings a lot of nice qualities of himself to whatever character he plays. However, in a production where sets, lighting, characters, and plots are brought to extremes, Connick’s mellow, laid back persona stood out. Choreographer JoAnn Hunter did a great job at involving Harry Connick Jr.’s in picturesque movements, such as the closing of Act I “Melinda,” where Dr. Mark was dancing with David, then Melinda, then both until it ended on high note between Mark and Melinda (or was it David?) Hunter brought a very “Brady Bunch” psychedelic to the productions big hits “Wait Till We’ve Sixty-Five” and “When I’m Being Born Again” and with Lane’s score, you couldn’t help but grin.

Was this production perfect? No. Did it deserve the bad word of mouth it got? Definitely not. This production deserved a much longer run and the reason behind the bad word of mouth is anyone’s guess. One thing is for certain though. The fruits of labor from everyone involved in this piece was evident in the story that I saw get told. You saw passion, dedication, and effort in every single cast member and to me, that’s really one of the true tricks to a well done musical comedy. Investment. If you ever find yourself hypnotized and you regress into your past self, do yourself and favor and try to transport yourself to 2011 New York City so you can relive this truly remarkable revival of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever

Featuring Harry Connick Jr. (Dr. Mark Bruckner), David Turner (David Gamble), Jessie Mueller (Melinda Wells), Kerry O’Malley (Dr. Sharone Stein), Drew Gehling (Warren Smith), Sarah Stiles (Muriel Bunson), Paul O’Brien (Anton, Dr. Leo Kravis, Maurice, Mr. Van Deusen, Gene Miller, Wesley Porter), Heather Ayers (Leora Kahn, Club Vedado Singer, Betsy Rappaport, Cynthia Roland, Radio Singer), Lori Wilner (Vera, Mrs. Hatch, Mrs. Lloyd, Radio Singer), Benjamin Eakeley (Preston, Announcer, Radio Singer, Stage Manager, Ensemble), Alex Ellis (Hannah, Ensemble), Kendal Hartse (Ensemble), Grasan Kingsberry (Ensemble), Tyler Maynard (Roger, Sawyer, Radio Singer, Ensemble), Zachary Prince (Alan, Wesley Porter, Ensemble), Alysha Umphress (Paula, Ensemble), Sean Allan Krill (Standby), Philip Hoffman (Standby), Julie Reiber (Standby), Patrick O’Neill (Swing), Christianne Tisdale (Swing)

Original Book: Alan Jay Lerner
New Book: Peter Parnell
Music: Burton Lane
Lyrics: Alan Jay Lerner
Director/Re-Conceiver: Michael Mayer
Choreographer: JoAnn M. Hunter
Set Design: Christine Jones
Lighting Design: Kevin Adams
Costume Design: Catherine Zuber
Sound Design: Peter Hylenski
Orchestrations: Doug Besterman
Casting: Jim Carnahan
Stage Manager: Rachel Wolff
Production Stage Manager: Lisa Iacucci
General Management: Charlotte Wilcox Company
Press Representation: The Hartmann Group

St. James Theatre
246 W. 44th St.
New York, NY

Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes

Closed January 29, 2012

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Interview with Miriam Kulick of "Open Hearts"

By Byrne Harrison

Miriam Kulick, an actor, playwright, director and teacher, first performed "Open Hearts" at the 2011 Washington D.C. Fringe Festival where it was named Pick of The Fringe by DC Theatre Scene. Prior to that she co-founded Miami’s Square Peg Productions whose first production, "Three Angels Dancing on A Needle" received the 2007 New Times Best of Miami award for Best Ensemble Production and for which she was named Best Actress. "Three Angels" was also performed in New York at the Brick Theater. Her solo show "Full Circle" was performed at Ensemble Studio Theatre’s Octoberfest. She has appeared in numerous productions in both Florida and New York City, where she hails from. On television she’s been featured in America’s Most Wanted and in the Doris Wishman Documentary on HBO. She’s a member of Actor’s Equity, SAG and AFTRA.  She can be found at

The main character in "Open Hearts," your one-woman show opening on April 19th, is 90-year-old Sadie Nussbaum. She sounds like she's a lot of fun to play. How did you create her?

She is an inspiration from a still living 95-year-old woman who lives in NY and has been a life-long friend of my family. It is not directly based on her life, but snippets and attitudes about getting older and having a feisty spirit do come from her. Also, years ago I was a licensed massage therapist and I use to give massages to a pair of 90 year old twin sisters who lived together after their husbands died and actually threw a small ball back and forth to each other to try and keep limber as well as limbering their minds. I use a ball in my show.

Sadie's daughter Deborah is a lesbian involved with a woman who is still coming to terms with her lesbianism. Deborah also sounds like a bit of an activist (she's planning to go to Darfur to help the refugees). Which is harder for Sadie to deal with, having a lesbian daughter or having a daughter that's planning to head to a war zone?

For Sadie, I think it's both- if she had to choose, I would say Darfur- there is the potential of real danger there and the possibility of not coming home alive, and mainly being far away from home when one gets old, who knows when their last day might be or they might fall down and break a hip?

What else can people expect from "Open Hearts"?

To realize that no matter who you are, your age, temperment, or sexual orientation, we all struggle with striving towards that proverbial happiness, in wanting more authentic and fulfilling lives and having the courage to go after where our heart really lies.

I felt like a complete slacker after reading your biography. Actor, dancer, writer, teacher, world-traveler, wife, mom, commuter (between NYC and Miami), and that is probably just the tip of the iceberg. But what caught my eye was your work with Pridelines Youth Services in Miami. How did that come about?

First off, thank you for acknowledging all that I have done. As a person working on feeling OK about not falling into the habitual zone, of "nah, I've really not amounted to too much of anything", I will, as the new me, say, "geez thanks." Pridelines Youth came about from a good friend of mine who ran a gay-lesbian themed based theatre company in Miami. They received a grant to work with at-risk youth that had to deal with, "Coming Out - Staying In" stories. We had an 8 week workshop which culminated in an informal presentation of their work, mainly writing and putting it together in a theatre production format. I was a former teacher of his and he knew my teaching style and thought I would be great for this type of project.

The stories the kids shared dealt with the coming out process, an emotionally fraught topic. What was it like working with them?

At first when I started out I worked just with the girls, and then they had me work with the boys as well and we became one group. When we began many were wary of trusting me, a middle-aged white married straight woman, who on the surface to them, seemed not to be able to connect or understand them, as well as the general fear of opening up about their own lives, to just even talk, some just sat there. There were a few, as in any type of teaching situation, who were so excited to begin and explore. Some dropped out, but most stayed, and when we actually performed it they were all so into it and felt so good about themselves, that people actually came to see them, to hear what they had to say, to hear their own personal stories and be touched by what they shared. It was truly confidence building for them and many audience members in the older gay community were moved to tears, as they shared that they never had the opportunity for self-expression, to be heard, when they were their age.

Do you have any plans to do similar workshops in the future?

I am always up for it, I love the idea of theme-based workshops, be it within the gay community as what I did or my latest idea is working with anyone 45 or older, actually any age, and calling it the 3 L's: love, loss, and longing- I incorporate writing, acting, drawing, music.

What else will you be working on this year?

My primary focus is on touring this show in the college circuit and other theatre venues that will produce me. I plan to move back to NY and work as an actor in other areas, to get an agent or manager to represent me and to teach acting.

And one completely random question. If you could do a two-person show with any actor, living or dead, who would you perform with, and what would the show be about?

Oh, I'd have to think long and hard on that one - Meryl Streep, if she would have me, but everyone would just focus on her, or Jon Hamm because who wouldn't want to work next to him? Why not the 3 L's: love, loss, and longing.
Open Hearts begins at the Studio Theatre at Theatre Row (412 W. 42nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues) on Thursday, April 19th. Performances are Thursday, April 19th, Friday April 20th, Friday, April 27th and Saturday April 28th at 7:30PM. For tickets go to or call (212) 239-6200. For more information go to