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NY Theater Reviews

David Turner and Drew Gehling/ Ph: Paul Kolnik

THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME

By BILL STEVENSON

Director Michael Mayer has radically reconceived this 1965 musical so that it's now even odder.

The new production of Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner's On a Clear Day You Can See Forever is a strange hybrid – not really a revival of the 1965 musical and not quite a new musical, either. Director Michael Mayer has radically reconceived the show, which now features a new book by Peter Parnell. Originally written as a vehicle for Barbara Harris, it's been refashioned as a vehicle for Harry Connick, Jr. If the original version was odd, the newfangled version is even odder. Fortunately, Connick contributes his trademark crooning and Jessie Mueller makes a terrific Broadway debut. The revamped story is still nutty, but at least Lane and Lerner's songs remain tuneful.
 
The original version centered on a patient named Daisy. Now the time has been changed to 1974 and she's become David (David Turner), a gay florist who wants to quit smoking and figure out why he can't commit to his boyfriend Warren (Drew Gehling). David goes to the psychiatrist Mark Bruckner (Connick), whose wife has recently died. When David is under a hypnotic spell, Mark meets a past-life version of David named Melinda Wells (Mueller), a 1940s jazz singer. In the original version Harris played both Daisy and her past-life persona, an 18th-century lady. 
 
Mayer does his best to make the bizarre reincarnation/love triangle work. (When David nods off, for instance, Melinda magically appears behind the couch.) But some scenes are just too wacky, as when Mark, David and Melinda dance together.
 
Presumably, Mayer and Parnell switched the period from the mid-60s to the mid-70s to make the relationship between Davey and Warren more plausible. Unfortunately, that means we have to look at ugly bellbottoms and double-knit pants (by costume designer Catherine Zuber). And instead of fun '60s go-go dancing we get uninspired '70s boogying (courtesy of choreographer Joann M. Hunter). Christine Jones' sets feature giant patterns that might induce hypnotic states. They're stylish, but they might induce headaches as well.
 
The best idea Mayer had was to incorporate songs from the Lerner and Lane film Royal Wedding. The prettiest is "Open Your Eyes," beautifully sung by Mueller, who is a real find, and later reprised by Connick with other cast members. Mayer also worked in songs from the 1970 film version of On a Clear Day (which starred Barbra Streisand), "Love With All the Trimmings" and "Go to Sleep." One of the best songs in the original show, "Come Back to Me," is now a duet for Mark and Warren. Turner and Gehling both have fine voices, and Turner does yeoman's work in a very challenging role. 
 

Connick's part is certainly tricky, too. He always looks dashing and sounds great when he sings. His Sinatra-esque phrasing suits Lane and Lerner's moody songs. At times he's a bit stiff, especially when listening to a fellow actor, and the story requires him to be gloomy much of the time. But when he finally sings the familiar title song his fans will forget the convoluted story and fall under the captivating spell Connick casts as a singer.