The diagnosis is in for Harry Connick Jr.'s Broadway musical about a psychiatrist undergoing a psychic meltdown: It needs more time on the couch.
A completely reworked "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever," which opened Sunday at the St. James Theatre, has some glorious voices, brilliantly trippy sets and some nifty moments, but its plot doesn't quite sing and it spends too much time oddly listless.
Michael Mayer, the director behind "Spring Awakening" and "American Idiot," has reconceived the 1965 original, which had a score by Burton Lane and a book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner. It was then made into a 1970 film with Barbra Streisand.
What Mayer has done can't be called tinkering. Virtually nothing has remained of the original but the vague premise, meaning this new version is both wedded to the past and yet unmoored from it as well. It's a brave move but prompts the question of why even bother?
One reason is the songs, which are sumptuous and lovely. Mayer has supplemented the original's musicals tunes – "Come Back to Me," "What Did I Have That I Don't Have," "She Isn't You" and "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever" – with "Love With All the Trimmings" and "Go to Sleep" from the movie. He's even thrown in Lerner and Lane songs from the film "Royal Wedding," such as "Ev'ry Night at Seven." While luscious, the different tones and plug-in feel make the show slightly disjointed.
Mayer has teamed up with Peter Parnell to hollow out the weird 1965 tale about an impossible love triangle and place it in 1974, adding a gender-bending twist to the hippie-meets-Freud head trip.
In the original, a widowed psychologist hypnotizes a young woman to help her quit smoking but discovers that his patient in a previous life was a 1940s jazz singer – and promptly falls in love with the long-gone woman. In the update, the psychologist falls in love with the jazz singer while treating a gay man, turning this reputable scientist into an advocate for reincarnation and risking his career.
Connick, in a suit and retro-cool glasses, plays the lovesick psychologist Mark Bruckner with a detached air, like he's doing a musical while waiting for a bus. When he sings, though, he comes alive and his caramel sound – gooey and warm – will leave you swooning.
Jessie Mueller plays his love interest Melinda, but unfortunately, she doesn't always swoon. Mueller is spunky, funny, nails the mannerisms of the `40s and holds notes wonderfully, but the musical's book means the chemistry between her and Connick is oddly filtered. As it is, Mueller offers the first real welcome jolt of electricity in this show when she winningly sings "Ev'ry Night at Seven" – but that's already well into Act 2.
David Turner plays the gay florist David with a bit too much self-conscious mournfulness, which thankfully dissipates when he sings, especially in a rousing version of "What Did I Have That I Don't Have." Three others – Kerry O'Malley as the doctor's stern colleague, Drew Gehling as David's lover Warren, and Sarah Stiles as David's funny friend Muriel – are first class.
The new version with its gay-straight frisson certainly adds complexity but it sits oddly in the remake's time period, only a year after the American Psychiatric Association deleted homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses.
The lyrics mostly hold up well – "Freud" is rhymed with "avoid" in one song and the Mets are made fun of in another – and some even have an inadvertent nod to homoeroticism, as in the end of the Act 1 song "Melinda" which has the doctor sing the lyric "You're a mere dream, Melinda/Out for a gay little spin."
One of the best things about the production is Christine Jones' sets, which are hypnotic and playful, especially when paired with Kevin Adams' lighting. They combine for vibrant colors highlighting a theme of checkerboards and circles.
Jones' small set parts fly on and off humorously, she cleverly uses multiple pots of vibrant plants, and has created moving horizontal and vertical panels that cinematically intertwine. Her use of bold 1970s-inspired trippy straight lines and hippie flowers reflects in many ways the push-pull of a scientist undergoing a psychoneurotic fantasy.
The psychiatrist's own leather couch becomes an elevator between time periods and even Jones' pillows have fun with the love triangle – an embroidered "M" on one stands for "Mark" but is flipped upside-down to also represent a "W" for "Warren."
Catherine Zuber's costumes are in on the jokes, with plenty of hippie-wear such as wide collars and bell bottoms and tops that reflect the plot's focus on flowers. Zuber also scores big when reaching for the '40s and Mueller is absolutely radiant in her silk, big band gowns. Why Connick seems addicted to his blue suit is a mystery.
The musical's best moments, not surprisingly, are when all the good elements join together, as in a showstopping moment when all three leads dance together, a rousing rendition of "Come Back to Me" by Connick and Gehling, and the group number "When I'm Being Born Again," all with great choreography by JoAnn M. Hunter. The trouble is those moments are few and far between. On a clear day, you can see a better musical hiding underneath, waiting for yet another revision.
Harry Connick Jr. is the biggest star of Broadway’s new production of “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.”
He’s also the biggest problem.
The popular crooner and “Pajama Game” alum plays Dr. Mark Bruckner, a shrink who falls in love with his patient’s past-life personality.
A quirky idea? You bet. And it needs buckets of charm.
While Connick has that signature husky voice, he’s challenged in the charm department on stage. He’s stiff and brooding and hangs over the musical like that gray cloud in the depression commercial on TV.
The creative team did him no favor by making Bruckner a grieving widower.
That’s just one alteration in this show, which is not so much a revival as a radical revision. There are new characters, storylines and songs, plus a sex change. The doc’s patient Daisy is now Davy.
In 1965, the musical starred Barbara Harris and John Cullum, but it is best remembered for the Barbra Streisand and Yves Montand movie, as well as the wonderful songs by Burton Lane (music) and Alan Jay Lerner (lyrics).
Michael Mayer, who conceived the redo and directs, has shown taste and vision in “Spring Awakening” and “American Idiot,” which expressed themselves in modern youthful ways. But in this old-fashioned idiom, he’s in a fog. The show careens from goofy to ponderous to heavy.
Fortunately, you can’t argue with the gem-filled score or with songs interpolated from Lerner and Lane’s MGM movie “Royal Wedding.” The lyrics are smart, clever, even impish, and complement the irresistible melodies.
Too bad the tunes are now in weird contexts, including “Wait ’Til We’re Sixty-Five.” It’s performed by kids in their 20s eagerly anticipating old age. Huh?
The plot has always been an issue. In Peter Parnell’s new book, it’s 1974 (hence, all the garish op-art sets) and Bruckner is treating Davy (David Turner, appealing), a fey gay florist who can’t commit to his boyfriend, Warren (Drew Gehling).
After putting Davy under hypnosis, the doc discovers his previous life as jazz singer Melinda Wells (bright newcomer Jessie Mueller, a beautiful singer and presence), which leads to complications and the show’s lone magical moment: An eloquent pas de trois that ends Act I.
In the end, all the changes don’t really enhance the show’s message to wake up and to love who you are. That was always right there in the lush and life-affirming title song’s lyric: “The glow that surrounds you outshines every star.”
Unfortunately, this “Clear Day” manages just a dull glimmer.
"On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” is known for its great songs — and nutty book.
Revived on Broadway for the first time since its 1965 opening, the Burton Lane/Alan Jay Lerner musical has undergone a drastic overhaul. Guess what? This “revisal” still has great songs and a nutty book — along with a downcast lead who looks as if he’d rather be anywhere but the St. James Theatre, where the show opened last night.
That Harry Connick Jr. is so stiff and ill at ease is a huge bummer, because his character bears the biggest load in Peter Parnell’s new book. Connick may have had a Tony-nominated turn in 2006’s “The Pajama Game,” but here he can barely carry his songs, let alone the show.
In Lerner’s original story, Dr. Mark Bruckner, a psychiatrist, takes a back seat to two women — or maybe it’s one. He hypnotizes the kooky Daisy Gamble to help her stop smoking, and she channels a previous life as an 18th-century English aristocrat named Melinda Wells — with whom the shrink falls in love.
In the version Parnell and director/“re-conceiver” Michael Mayer cooked up, Daisy’s been replaced by David (David Turner), a gay florist. David still has a previous incarnation named Melinda (Jessie Mueller), only now she’s a 1940s nightclub singer — with whom the shrink falls in love.
Since he’s into Melinda, not David, Bruckner isn’t gay, though he may be nuts. In any case, Connick is incapable of playing ambiguity of any kind.
The situation’s repercussions also feel underexploited in Mayer’s staging and JoAnn M. Hunter’s choreography, save for an inspired pas de trois by the leads.
So now we’re left with a plot that stretches credibility just as much as the old one. The price for the gay twist is also high: The show’s central role has switched from Daisy/Melinda — a dual assignment taken on by the powerhouse likes of Barbara Harris, Barbra Streisand and Kristin Chenoweth — to the psychiatrist and, to a lesser extent, the florist. It’s unclear how this qualifies as progress.
Moving the action to 1974 allowed for some gay-lib permissiveness, but aside from a few platform shoes, the show’s set, style and dance moves feel more like the mod ’60s.
At least the score still shines. It’s been tinkered with as well, with some songs being cut and others added, but these changes are less fraught.
Connick has such a naturally gorgeous tone that he pulls off ballads almost despite himself. But when he needs to step it up, he’s underpowered — rarely has the passionate “Come Back to Me” sounded so limp.
Mueller and Turner are both appealing actors and bring charm to their characters and songs. It’s interesting to hear “What Did I Have That I Don’t Have?” performed by a man, and Turner, alone onstage, gives it haunted emotion — even if he doesn’t quite deliver the necessary show-stopping punch.
Mueller is the real discovery. As the big-band canary, she more than holds her own, displaying a velvet touch on the slower numbers, and riding the faster ones’ beat with cheeky sass.
Maybe the show’s team should have gone even further and turned the doctor into a woman. Then Mueller could have played her instead of Connick.
Toward the long-awaited end of the new semirevival of “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever,” which opened on Sunday at the St. James Theater, an eminent psychiatrist proposes that what we have been watching was perhaps only “my own psychoneurotic fantasy.”
Now, I don’t have a medical degree, but might I propose an alternate diagnosis? It seems to me, Doc, that you and your show have been suffering instead from a case of clinical depression that you’ve never been able to get over, no matter how hard you’ve tried. And, believe me, I know how you’ve tried. I have felt the pain of your efforts.
Where the heck is Zoloft (and Prozac and Abilify) when you need the little suckers? This wholesale reconception of a fluffy, muddled 1965 musical about reincarnation appears to have given everyone who appears in it — including its charismatic star, Harry Connick Jr. — a moaning case of the deep-dyed blues. Though done up to resemble a psychedelic fun house (the sanitized, perky kind that brings to mind middle-of-the-road rock album covers from the late 1960s and early ’70s), this “Clear Day” still has the approximate fun quotient of a day in an M.R.I. machine.
There’s no doubt that the original “Clear Day,” which features a perfectly lovely score by Burton Lane (music) and Alan Jay Lerner (lyrics), required some serious tinkering if it was going to fly on Broadway in 2011. Though this tale of reincarnation and a love that crossed generations starred the peerless Barbara Harris, as a psychically gifted young woman with a past life just waiting to leap out of her, it was generally agreed that the 1965 production was overdressed, overplotted and more or less out of its mind.
So the director Michael Mayer, who had always had an understandable soft spot for the show’s music, decided to enlist the playwright Peter Parnell to see if “Clear Day” might be clarified. The focus was shifted from the beguiling Daisy (Ms. Harris’s part) to Dr. Mark Bruckner (Mr. Connick), the psychiatrist who stepped over a whole lot of professional lines in treating her.
Mark, in this version, is a widower of five years who has never gotten over his wife’s death. As in the earlier “Clear Day” Mark still accidentally winds up treating an unexceptional-seeming patient who, under hypnosis, delivers a full-blown previous incarnation from years earlier. And that inner soul happens to be just the sort of woman Mark’s been waiting for. The big difference is that Daisy is now David, a gay florist with commitment issues.
Well, that’s the first big difference, anyway. Daisy/David’s alter-ego, Melinda, is no longer a love-crossed English beauty from the 18th century but a feisty big-band singer from the early 1940s in search of a professional break. This transformation was even more troublesome to the “Clear Day” team than Daisy’s sex change, since it meant coming up with songs that were more Benny Goodman than Thomas Arne. (To do so, the creators raided the Lerner and Lane score for the 1951 film “Royal Wedding” and a few numbers from the unfondly remembered 1970 “Clear Day” film starring Barbra Streisand.)
Finally, and most unfortunately, it was decided that Mark’s prize patient would be played by two people instead of one. While I didn’t see Ms. Harris in the original “Clear Day,” I was lucky enough to catch Kristin Chenoweth in the same role in an Encores! concert version. And that show’s greatest (if not only) pleasures came from watching her melt from one character into another, with a posture, an accent and a singing style to match.
Anyway, now we have David Turner as David, and Jessie Mueller as Melinda. And while they perform a couple of fleeting pas de trois with the doctor in the hypnosis scenes, mostly they stay out of each other’s way. Once Melinda takes over David, she becomes a sort of human time machine who allows the doc to hang out with her in jazzy old Manhattan of yore.
Never mind trying to figure out the logic of all this. Reincarnation, I’m sure, has its own transcendent laws. But you can’t avoid the casualties of this approach. The most conspicuous is the muffling of Mr. Turner, an actor of wit and charm, who is here required to be witless and charmless.
Ms. Mueller, who has a fetching affinity for swing-era song stylings, comes off better. (Her version of “Ev’ry Night at Seven,” an interpolation from “Royal Wedding,” is the show’s high point.) But in reshaping Melinda as a concept, someone forgot to make her a character as well. And concepts, as opposed to characters, don’t generate chemistry with their leading men.
Mr. Connick, who was a splendid matinee-idol-style star of the 2006 revival of “The Pajama Game,” here appears to be taking his character’s bereavement too much to heart. Known for Sinatra-esque timbre and phrasing, he evokes Old Blue Eyes here, too, but the terminally heartsick, lost-in-a-gin-bottle Sinatra of “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” and “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road).” He has the look of a man just out of grueling dental surgery, who is both in pain and still semi-anesthetized. And he makes even an up number like the title song sound like an exquisitely sung dirge.
Did I mention that the show is now set in 1974 instead of 1965? I’m not sure why, except that perhaps it allows for more jokes about psychiatrists and their methods in the Me Decade, when everybody was shrink-wrapped. (Mark describes his tribe as being “sweethearts of Sigmund Freud.”)
And of course there’s that whole 1970s aesthetic. Christine Jones’s sets and Catherine Zuber’s costumes are meant, I presume, to pulse with kinetic visual playfulness. They are filled with mixed Op Art designs and bright (my eyes, my eyes!) shades of orange, pink and green.
But there was never a less flattering decade in fashion than the early 1970s. And I couldn’t help feeling that members of the talented supporting cast — who include Kerry O’Malley (as Mark’s loyal and adoring colleague), Sarah Stiles (as David’s roommate) and Drew Gehling (very good as David’s boyfriend) — wished they were somewhere else, in more attractive costumes, doing less spasmodic dances (choreographed by Joann M. Hunter).
A warning: All those elaborately mixed patterns of circles and squares can affect your vision. I found myself seeing double at the show’s beginning, until my eyes had adjusted. What a relief when things fell into normal focus again. One “Clear Day” at a time is more — much more — than enough.
Director Michael Mayer ("Spring Awakening," "American Idiot") has taken it upon himself, with the help of playwright Peter Parnell, to reconceive Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane's 1965 musical "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever." The original was an eight-month failure; this version, with radical rewrites encouraged by the authors' estates in hopes of generating income, features a sex change and a bifurcated leading role, but the outlook for this "Clear Day" is stormy.
The play initially was constructed as a vehicle for a star singer/comedienne (played by Barbara Harris on stage, Barbra Streisand on screen). The challenge and the fun came from watching an insecure neurotic instantly and repeatedly transformed through hypnosis into her glamorous, past-life self. Mayer has seen fit to divide this star part in half and have it played by two actors, removing the one element that thoroughly worked in the original.
Barbara and Barbra were supported by a subsidiary leading man, a psychiatrist who mostly stood around and watched the irrepressible and lovable star. The new scheme forces the doctor, here played by Harry Connick Jr., to carry the show. It's an impossible task for a character who largely stands around watching when he isn't standing around singing.
The skeleton of the "Clear Day" plot is retained, but without a leading lady playing dual roles, it's like a banana split without bananas. Melinda's neurotic half, Daisy, is now played by a slip of a boy who works in a flower shop; the unsuccessful surgery weakens the score. Some songs, which refer to Daisy's excised ESP story thread, seem robbed of their meaning; the now extraneous title song is relegated to the closing spot. Two songs have been transformed into overblown production numbers, and the new plot calls for seven reprises. (Added songs come from the Fred Astaire pic "Royal Wedding.") The keen listener will notice numerous unfamiliar lyrics; Lerner seems to have been rewritten by an uncredited hand, and clumsily so.
The main items of interest in this misguided affair are the performances of the split-in-two heroine. Jessie Mueller, as the glamorous Melinda, is a find; the character has been transformed into a 1943 jazz singer, and Mueller handles this extremely well when given a chance (as in "Ev'ry Night at Seven"). David Turner plays Davey -- formerly Daisy -- and acquits himself respectably in a role that might well have come across as offensive.
Christine Jones' scenery, which complemented the concepts of Mayer's "Spring Awakening" and "American Idiot," here is built on psychiatric patterns of lines, stripes and triangles filled with blues, purples and oranges, and at times is almost painful to look at. The action has been moved to 1974, as evidenced by Catherine Zuber's costumes, heavy on bellbottoms and platform shoes.