REVIEW: Irish Rep’s “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever”
The haunting melody of the title song from “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever”, gorgeously sung amid the overture, signals the bounty of musical theatre majesties to follow in this bizarre but charming musical. In truth, Burton Lane’s score far outshines the show it services, a middling oddball from 1965 that has nevertheless continued to enchant audiences, and present writers with a puzzle so many have tried to solve, for decades.
The original production lasted a mere 280 performances, receiving cold notices and no Tony Awards. A much more successful 1970 film adaptation by Vincente Minnelli starred Barbra Streisand. In 2000, City Center Encores! presented a concert version with Kristin Chenoweth that marked my first Encores! experience. And a heavily revised, gender-flipped, jazz-inspired, first Broadway revival starring Harry Connick, Jr. and Jessie Mueller played only 57 performances in 2011. The Irish Repertory Theatre in Chelsea picks up the torch to present yet another new adaptation, this time by artistic director Charlotte Moore.
In this version, Daisy Gamble (Melissa Errico), a quirky girl from Queens who talks to flowers and can anticipate the phone ringing, decides her smoking habit is the cause for her chronic unemployment. And so she joins some friends at a hypnotism class hosted by psychiatrist Mark Bruckner (Stephen Bogardus), who soon realizes Daisy’s unique talent for extrasensory perception (aka ESP). Taking her on as a patient, Mark unlocks Daisy’s past life as Melinda Welles, an 18th century English aristocrat caught up in a fatal love affair; Mark then falls for Melinda, and then for Daisy.
Most scenes of this simple, drawn-out musical consist of a small number of characters—mainly Daisy and Mark—though there is a nine member ensemble, each given character names in the program though they move almost en masse, and remain mostly uncharacterized. Setting aside whatever faults are baked in (and there are plenty), the good news is that this small and intimate musical is given the small and intimate treatment it deserves at the 146-seat Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage. I missed that 2011 Broadway revival, but cannot imagine this sweet and cozy show playing at the grand St. James Theatre.
Ms. Errico and Mr. Bogardus sound magnificent as they sing Lane and Lerner’s delightful standards: “Hurry, It’s Lovely Up Here”, “Melinda”, “What Did I Have That I Don’t Have?”, and “Come Back to Me”, in addition to that catchy title song. Unfortunately, there isn’t much chemistry between the two, and that is largely a flaw of the writing. In the present, Daisy is rather dim and Mark rather cerebral. In the past, the characters never interact as themselves, and so the audience is largely left to fill in the gaps of their supposed budding romance on their own, nevermind the ethics and gender politics of it all.
Minnelli cut the ensemble numbers from the film, and I understand why. None progresses the plot or reveals much about the central characters. Instead, they exist to satisfy the big showstopper expectations of a mid-1960s Broadway audience. Today, musicals can be small and successful. To Irish Rep’s credit, that was clearly the vision for this production, with lovely, water-color projections by James Morgan that seamlessly effect scene changes and set a phantasmagorical mood for this strange, time-travelling story.
Try as she might, though, Ms. Moore—as adapter and director—hasn’t fixed the unfixable problems at the heart of “On a Clear Day”. Instead, she and her earnest ensemble—aided by a handsome five piece band that includes a harp—have delivered a well-sung, enjoyable, if baffling and unremarkable, show that gives audiences a chance to hear Lane and Lerner’s songs anew, just as it did for “Finian’s Rainbow” (Lane’s other hit) last season. Perhaps this revival should signal that the puzzle of “On a Clear Day” is definitively unsolvable.
Bottom Line: Irish Rep revives Lane and Lerner’s “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever”, a middling oddball of a musical from 1965. Gorgeously sung, and charming throughout, the romance at the heart of the plot is unconvincing and largely absent from the stage. This new adaptation gets the scale right, but doesn’t solve the flaws baked in to this simple and strange musical.
“On a Clear Day You Can See Forever”
Irish Repertory Theatre
132 West 22nd Street
New York, NY 10011
Running Time: 2 hours, 5 minutes (one intermission)
Opening Night: June 28, 2018
Final Performance: September 6, 2018