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

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