Thoughts about “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” Preview – 11/19/11

Written by: Dan Mason

It’s not unheard of for Broadway producers to gamble on reviving a dated piece of material and using it as a star vehicle for Broadway royalty. Just last season Kristin Chenowith packed houses at the Broadway Theater for the critically panned, but commercially successful Promises, Promises. Given the fact that the show recouped a sizeable investment, it seemed like an intelligent risk to team Harry Connick Jr (The Pajama Game) with Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening, American Idiot) and let them take a crack at the 1965 flop, On a Clear Day, a show largely praised for its score, and crucified for a book about reincarnation, ESP, and other psycho-babble nonsense.

Mayer has completely re-conceived the show, taking the original story about an eccentric young woman, who was an English aristocrat in a past life, and turning it into a story of a young, gay, florist, who was formerly a female jazz singer. David Turner (Arcadia) plays David Gamble,  the love interest for Connick’s recently widowed psychoanalyst, Dr. Mark Bruckner. Except he’s not really the love interest, because middle-aged females aren’t paying to see their beloved Harry Connick romancing a man on stage. So the real love interest is the jazz singer, alter-ego, Melinda Wells (Jessie Mueller in her Broadway debut).

Confused yet? Because that love triangle is only part of what’s going on in this cluttered mess. Drew Gehling (Jersey Boys) is David’s badly treated boyfriend, Warren. Kerry O’ Malley (Into The Woods, White Christmas) is completely wooden and uninteresting as a medical colleague who is secretly in love with Dr Bruckner.

There are many different things happening in Clear Day, and the problem is that it’s hard for the audience to feel emotionally invested in any of it. The notion that Dr. Bruckner could be in love with a jazz singer who died 30 years before is completely implausible and hard to buy into. Yet, you don’t believe for a second that the doctor has a true romantic interest in David Gamble. In fact, Bruckner comes across as largely uncaring about his patient, using him only to gain more knowledge about a dead jazz singer. The only character that elicits any sympathy through the first two and a half hours is David Gamble’s long-suffering boyfriend Warren, but he gets treated so badly that you just wish he would run off and find someone new who actually appreciates him.

All that being said, there is one genuinely beautiful scene in the last 15 minutes, where the show exquisitely explores the one relationship that is compelling. That is when Dr. Bruckner confronts the idea of death and tries to find closure over the death of his wife. It’s a powerful scene, and one of the few moments in the show where Connick appears emotionally connected to anything happening onstage. Unfortunately, the payoff still doesn’t justify the stupidity of the previous two and a half hours, where we are treated to ridiculous dialogue about reincarnation, ESP, and even a song asking whether it’s possible for one to learn of “pre-incarnation” and know what their next life will be.

The pacing of the show is something that needs to be addressed as previews continue. The first act checks in at 80 minutes, but feels like two hours. The second act does move along better, although the songs that feature Dr. Bruckner’s students could be cut completely, as they serve no purpose to the show at all. The set design is an eyesore, using a black and white, checkered, opt art look that gives way to bright, vivid colors, that may be appropriate for the 1970’s era, but stand in stark contrast to a show that is not “bright” at all.

The audience reaction from the Connick fan base that I spoke with at intermission seemed to be mixed, with some women just excited to see him onstage, and others who found the story to be ridiculous. One couple sitting next to us left at intermission and never returned. It will be interesting to see whether Connick’s name alone can get this show through it’s run. It will likely have to because I think the script problems are too great to be fixed in previews.

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10 thoughts on “Thoughts about “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” Preview – 11/19/11

  1. Saw the show this past Sunday (20 Nov) and I agree completely. The three big numbers are held for the end, too late for most. The title song is shoe-horned in and has NOTHING to do with the rest of the book. I would rather have seen the “flop” But Harry is great.
    Cute note, at the start he walks straight to the front of the stage, silent. to a rousing ovation. His first words were “Thank you.” Was this in the script?
    One of the songs done by the students, “On the S.S. Bernard Cohen” is a song saved from the original musical, but the ship on which Melinda is to die is transformed into the Staten Island Ferry.
    I also wondered about the necessity of the ’70 s era rather than contemporary, and it took until I was on the way out to figure out that it was necessary to tie in David’s birth to Miranda’d death (sort of like the Dalai Lama?)

    I counted 6 flubs by various actors, but hey, this IS a full reduced priced “Preview”

    At least we know the St. James will be available for another show (Follies?) soon. It will run less than the 260 performances of the original, that is for sure.

  2. Dave- I actually was not a fan of Harry in this show until the last scene with his farewell to Melinda. I honestly couldn’t decide whether it’s because the book is terrible and he doesn’t get much to work with, or whether it’s possible that Harry wasn’t comfortable with the homosexual overtones with the Bruckner/Gamble relationship. I’m not at all implying that Connick is homophobic, but I sure didn’t feel any onstage chemistry with David Turner (who l found enjoyable as a loveable, socially awkward guy). Follies (which I will not be reviewing for this site since Spencer has already covered it) was the best thing I saw on this trip to NYC. If the St James doesn’t open up, there is always the Kerr (which may be to small for the show), because Lysistrata Jones was an ABOMINATION. I will be posting a review for that soon.

    1. I do not think Harry Connick is a homophobe, only that he might not want to play gay,as say, Hugh Jackman did.
      The Follies reference was tongue in cheek. It IS closing at the Marquis on New Years. Next in is the new revival of EVITA.

  3. Your “review” is inaccurate. For example, the biggest story here is Jesse Mueller. She is a knockout; yet you barely mention her. We know what to expect from Connick. She a fresh Broadway face.

    I saw the show last night with eight friends, and while it may be imperfect, I don’t agree with your almost completely negative post. We all enjoyed it. The house was packed. Valentino and other celebrities were in the audience, and everybody stayed. Connick was a delight. Yes, there were some cast errors here and there….. My team and I flew in from another state to see the show and paid a fair amount in advance, $135 for balcony seats. We had a great time….. Was this my favorite show? No, but it was an intriguing evening of entertainment, raising lots of issues we enjoyed discussing on our way back to the Gramercy Park Hotel…..Some numbers were so-so, and some were really good….. At first, I struggled with the apparent disregard of Connick’s character for the young gay man as the doctor became intrigued by the soul within the soul….. But then, I remembered the times in life when I ran into “new” emotional situations-and how I didn’t always handle it so well , especially ones that threw me off base…. I found this aspect of the show the most compelling….It is hard to integrate our feelings when we encounter what we have not encountered before….That is a great contribution to the human condition the show makes in serving as a metaphor for the emotionally unknown…. May friends and I found it unusually touching and surprisingly emotional as the book progressed… I thought they sang On a Clear Day at the perfect time in the show….

    As one among a large percentage of the world who believe in reincarnation, I was fascinated to see how this Broadway take on the subject would go…. Frankly, I have often wondered what would happen in a situation similar to this…. For most serious students of reincarnation, though, know that typically the soul rests for approximately 70-100 years before choosing, or not, to return to a physical body- but I digress. Whether reincarnation is reality or not, I acknowledge no one knows for sure. From all that I can see and have experienced in almost 60 years of life, the odds are in its favor. I resent your reference to psychobabble and clearly disagree with your dismissiveness of the overall play based on the subject. It probably won’t last long, since it isn’t a great play and competition is still. Regardless, if you like Connick, who was perfect for the part and fun to watch, want to see a great new talent, Jesse Mueller, and/or just want to have a good time, I’d put my money down again.

    1. Ms. Mueller has a lovely voice. I wasn’t blown away by her acting, but if nothing else comes of this show for her, maybe Connick can help her land a record deal. She could have a career similar to Norah Jones.

      As for the rest of your post, I’m not here to debate the afterlife. All I know is that the subject made for a slow night of theatre.

    2. Alex- I also wonder how many rewrites were put into place between the time you and I saw the show. Michael Riedel’s newest piece (which says the show is in trouble from bad word of mouth) says that much of the psychiatry talk is being written OUT of the show as a way to make sure the audiences can follow the action. There was two weeks in between the times you and I saw the show. Chances are, we saw very different productions

  4. Am I the only person who was horrified by the notion that while Dr. Bruckner is shown hugging and kissing Melinda, he is in reality hugging and kissing an unconscious and unconsenting patient? No, he never rapes Davie, but this is sexual violation all the same and ethically there is no difference. Why not just give Davie a rufi? This aspect of the show just made my skin crawl. Any analyst who engaged in such behavior would be disbarred, sued, and probably jailed. What next on Broadway? A musical about pedophilia? Ugh.

  5. What the heck where they thinking. Bring back the original. As muddled as the plot was, how many successful broadway shows had ridiculous or no plots?? Quite a few. This show has beautiful music and dance numbers along with whitty lyrics. I bet it could do fine today in its original form.

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