I love the score for ON A CLEAR DAY. Unfortunately, the original book was a mess, which makes the show impossible to revive. In the wake of books and articles about reincarnation, Alan Jay Lerner tried to create an original musical about a psychiatrist who falls in love with a young woman who channels people from the past. The show, like ANYONE CAN WHISTLE, the Sondheim-Arthur Laurents musical of the same period, simply baffled people despite the wonderful score. Director Michael Mayer, as big a fan of the score as I am, had a dream of finding a way to make the show work. As a result, we have a new, retooled ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER with the best of the original score plus some tunes from the MGM musical ROYAL WEDDING by the same songwriting team plus a new book by Peter Parnell that is marginally better than the original.
Now we have psychiatrist Mark Bruckner (Harry Connick), who is grieving over the death of his wife, taking on David, an easily hypnotized gay florist with commitment issues. Mark wants to use hypnosis to cure David of his smoking habit but while hypnotized David channels Melinda (Jessie Mueller), a 1940s band singer. Mark falls in love with Melinda, David thinks Mark is in love with him which complicates his relationship with boyfriend Warren. The trouble with the book is that Melinda isn't really a character we care about and Mark isn't well written. Moreover, the show needs an accomplished singer-actor in the central role, but Harry Connick, Jr. neither acts effectively nor projects any personality as Mark. As a result, the focus is on the relationship of David and Warren, particularly since David Turner and Drew Gehling are far more winning performers than Mr. Connick or Ms. Mueller. Connick sings well enough in his characteristic throaty style, but Turner and Gehling are better at putting over a show tune. The always wonderful Kerry O'Malley is wasted in a supporting role as Mark's colleague.
The show supposedly takes place in 1974, but the op ed art and mod costumes are from a slightly earlier era. The staging is amateurish. There's a term in opera, "Park and Bark," for productions in which the singers just come down to the footlights and belt out their arias. The staging of this show is the musical equivalent of "Park and Bark." Only David Turner is allowed to throw any physical energy into his numbers. There is an ensemble of six -- small for a show in a barn like the St. James Theatre. In general, I thought the production would have fared better in a smaller theatre like the O'Neill, Walter Kerr or Sondheim than in the St. James.
For all that, I enjoyed looking at the show and hearing the great score well sung. The show reminded me that writing the book for a musical is a real challenge. There have been very few masters of the craft. This one by Peter Parnell justifies the songs, but has little in the way of characterization and no charm or wit. I do hope there's a cast album.
ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER. Conceived and directed by Michael Mayer. Book by Peter Parnell. Score by Burton Lane with lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner. St. James Theatre, December 19, 2011.