Saturday, December 24, 2011

Review of "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever"

I was looking forward to the revival of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, the 1965 musical by Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane, that stars Harry Connick, Jr. There were a number of reasons. First, the show is rarely revived so a chance to see a production with the full Broadway treatment was too good to pass up. Second, there are a number of tuneful songs in the score, something rare in current Broadway shows. Third, the chance to see Mr. Connick who created such a splash in his Broadway debut a few years back in The Pajama Game.

Unfortunately, the revival didn’t live up to my advance expectations and, indeed, falls flat. I’d go out on a limb and say the soon-to-close Bonnie and Clyde has more to offer theater-goers then this sluggish production. So what’s the problem? There are two primary issues I have with the revival. First, is the storyline. The original 1965 show centered on a psychiatrist, still brooding over his dead wife, who begins sessions with a woman who just happens to host the reincarnated soul of a 1940’s jazz singer. The doctor falls for the inner being while treating the real-life self. As you can guess, complications ensue. In the current revival at the St. James Theater, Director Michael Mayer has reconceived the plot, along with bookwriter Peter Parnell, so the female client, instead of playing dual roles, has been split into a gay flower shop salesman, David—he’s the one in therapy--and an actress playing the beguiling other self. More complications ensue, both in David’s personal life and clinical sessions. As you can imagine, the narrative gets somewhat convoluted. Most of the characters are never really compelling and the main thrust of the plot is rather uninspiring.

This isn’t to say the actors in the production aren’t endearing or miscast, except one, which brings me to problem number two—Harry Connick, Jr. Whether it is the role, as written; the direction by Michael Mayer; Connick’s overly despondent nature or a combination of the three the star seems to just hunker across the stage, crooning some ballads, and showing very little emotional range. Yes, his character is still grief stricken over his wife’s death three years earlier, but the continual moping and self-reflection becomes tiresome.

The other cast members are more in sync with their musical comedy roles. David Turner is an effervescent sparkplug as the anxious, commitment abhorrent florist, David Gamble; Drew Gehling, as David’s lawyerly lover, Warren Smith, has a natty stage presence and dynamic voice; Sarah Stiles, David’s best friend, Muriel, provides a needed comic kick throughout the show; and Jessie Mueller, as the reincarnated singer, Melinda Wells, is radiant, high-spirited and possesses a powerhouse voice.

The score by Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane contain some real Broadway musical gems including “Melinda,” “Come Back to Me,” and “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.” Yet the notable songs are backloaded towards the end of the show leaving a finely tuned score with only a few magical nuggets.

Christine Jones’ misguided set designs, looking to evoke the swinging times of the early 1970’s, are a jumble of colorful geometric shapes and forms, yet their inclusion is more artsiness over effectiveness.

Director Mayer and choreographer Joann Hunter look to instill life into the musical—the production numbers, few and far between, are energetic if somewhat utilitarian—but with a cumbersome plot and a somewhat unappealing lead character the revival of On a Clear Day needs to undergo its own reincarnation. Maybe in its next life the musical will become the enchanting fable it yearns to be.