Review: ‘On a Clear Day’ Almost Shines at the Irish Rep
By Christopher Caggiano, Contributing Writer, August 3, 2018
After the disastrous 2011 Broadway revisal of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, it was looking like we might never see that show in New York City again. Peter Parnell’s ridiculous, gender-switching libretto, combined with Michael Mayer’s garish and limp production, seemingly put a nail in the show’s coffin. And it’s not like the original book and production had worked any better.
Enter Charlotte Moore, artistic direction for the Irish Repertory Theatre, who has intrepidly gone back to the original book for On a Clear Day, but has made some very judicious nips and tucks. The result is a mostly successful production, at least during the first act, that comes about as close as I can imagine to a working version of this show.
(I do have to say that, misguided though the 2011 version of On a Clear Day may have been, we do have that production to thank for introducing us to the wondrous Jessie Mueller, such a standout in that production, and now one of the finest musical-theater actors we have.)
The essential story of On a Clear Day involves one Daisy Gamble, a young woman who is trying to quit smoking, and Dr. Mark Bruckner, a psychiatrist who hypnotizes Daisy in an effort to help her stop. Mark winds up discovering a whole lot more about Daisy in the process, and the show’s plot offers a sort of Whitman’s Sampler of 1960s psychic mumbo-jumbo, including telepathy, extrasensory perception, reincarnation, and past-life regression.
Moore makes an asset of the Irish Rep’s minuscule playing area by using it to focus the piece on the bare essentials. Moore is aided immeasurably here by the projection design from Ryan Belock, which is charmingly impressionistic, and neatly accomplishes the show’s many changes of time and place.
Also, Moore wisely removes much of lyricist/librettist Alan Jay Lerner’s pseudoscientific meanderings (Lerner was allegedly experimenting with LSD while writing the show) and focuses more on the central relationship between Daisy and Mark. In the process, Moore has eliminated two significant characters entirely: Warren, Daisy’s buttoned-up fiancé, and Themistocles Kriakos, the bumptious Greek tycoon who hopes to harness Daisy’s supernatural powers to somehow pass his millions on to his reincarnated self. (Yeah, it didn’t make much sense in the show either.)
Although Moore understandably cuts Kriakos’s song, the ungrammatical “When I’m Being Born Again,” for some reason she has chosen to keep Warren’s song, “Wait Till We’re Sixty Five,” which is inexplicably sung by the ensemble under the flimsiest of pretexts. The number was written to show how Daisy and Warren aren’t a good match for each other, but in Moore’s version, the ensemble members are trying to get Daisy to commit to finding a job, which doesn’t really fit the lyric.
Moore has also excised the irritating “Don’t Tamper with My Sister,” while the ineffectual “Tosy and Cosh” has thankfully been reduced to underscoring. What’s left are some genuinely lovely and lively songs, with Lerner’s often erudite lyrics set to Burton Lane’s frequently gorgeous music. The most enchanting of these are the haunting “Melinda,” here given a charming rendition by Stephen Bogardus as Dr. Bruckner, and “She Wasn’t You,” delivered with wonderful resonance by John Cudia as Edward Moncrief, Daisy’s paramour in a former life.
Of course, Daisy herself gets some of the best songs, and Irish Rep regular Melissa Errico makes for a lovely Daisy in this production, particularly on Daisy’s introduction number, the delightfully goofy “Hurry, It’s Lovely Up Here,” and on Daisy’s second-act belter, “What Did I Have That I Don’t Have.”
Even with all of Moore’s changes, act two still feels a bit splotchy, and the show regrettably relies on that tired trope of the psychiatrist falling in love with the patient, which today would be considered wildly unethical. But the production as a whole adds up to a really pleasant diversion, with sensitive direction and a first-rate cast. If you’re hoping to catch this On a Clear Day yourself, you’ve got some extra time to do so, as the production was recently extended through September 6th.
On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, presented by The Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street, through September 6, 2018. Book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner; music by Burton Lane. Adapted and Directed by Charlotte Moore; music direction by John Bell; choreography by Barry McNabb; set design by James Morgan; costume design by Whitney Locher; lighting design by Mary Jo Dondlinger; sound design by M. Florian Staab; projection design by Ryan Belock; orchestrations by Josh Clayton; conductor: Gary Adler.
Cast: Florrie Bagel, William Bellamy, Stephen Bogardus (through August 8), Rachel Coloff, Peyton Crim, John Cudia, Ben Davis (August 9 – September 6), Melissa Errico, Caitlin Gallogly, Matt Gibson, Daisy Hobbs, and Craig Waletzko.
Cover: Craig Waletzko, Melissa Errico, and William Bellamy in ‘On A Clear Day You Can See Forever;’ photo: Carol Rosegg.