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On A Clear Day You Can See Forever

Theatre Review by David Hurst - June 28, 2018

Melissa Errico and Stephen Bogardus
Photo by Carol Rosegg

Let's face it, Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner's On A Clear Day You Can See Forever has had a checkered history on New York stages despite its tuneful score and a starring role which should be a showcase for an actress blessed with talent and nerve. It would be nice to report the Irish Repertory Theatre's new revival solves the show's problems, but, alas, that's not the case. A clumsy adaptation of Lerner's flawed, original libretto by artistic director Charlotte Moore and a star who seems adrift onstage conspire to make this Clear Day as murky as it is tedious.

Written in 1965, Clear Day tells the story of Daisy Gamble, a young woman who can make flowers grow and knows when the phone is about to ring. Daisy's about to get married but her fiancé, Warren Smith, insists she give up smoking to impress his corporate bosses. Unable to quit on her own, Daisy goes to a psychiatrist, Dr. Mark Bruckner, to give hypnotism a try, but when Dr. Bruckner hypnotizes Daisy she regresses into a past life inhabited by Melinda Wells, an 18th century English aristocrat who died under mysterious circumstances following a tempestuous affair with painter Edward Moncrief. Naturally, Bruckner is fascinated by Daisy's extra-sensory perception and slowly finds himself falling in love with Melinda. Comedy ensues. Or at least Lane and Lerner hoped it would.

The original Broadway run wasn't well received and ran for eight months due largely to the star turn of Barbra Harris whose fantastic portrayal of Daisy/Melinda is still spoken about in effusive tones by those lucky enough to have seen her. The book was always considered a hot mess, but, in fairness to the score, there are some rhapsodically beautiful songs contained within it, such as "She Wasn't You," "Melinda," "What Did I Have That I Don't Have?" (a hit for Eydie Gorme in 1966) and the haunting title song, "On A Clear Day You Can See Forever." In 2000, City Center ENCORES! resuscitated Clear Day with Kristin Chenoweth, Peter Friedman and Brent Barrett and, though musically gorgeous, the shortcoming's in Lerner's mishmash of a book were glaringly apparent. The less said about Michael Mayer's ill-advised 2011 Broadway revival starring Harry Connick, Jr.—a disastrous debacle which shuttered after less than two months—the better! Daisy Gamble became David Gamble, a gay florist, who, when regressed by Dr. Bruckner, became Melinda, a sexy jazz singer embodied by Jessie Mueller. David's in love with his doctor, but his doctor is falling in love with Melinda. It was an interesting idea, but Mayer and his cast didn't have the courage of their convictions to embrace the gay plot elements and the revival imploded.

John Cudia and Melissa Errico
Photo by Carol Rosegg

Which brings us back to the Irish Rep's well-meaning, but low-budget, revival of Clear Day. Moore's stupefying adaptation eliminates characters, songs and plot but, somehow, doesn't bring either clarity or insight to what remains. Melissa Errico, a superb performer who's been a mainstay at Irish Rep starring in multiple productions of Finian's Rainbow, doesn't seem a natural fit for Daisy/Melinda, and it's not because of her age. It's because she's too tentative with the material and doesn't grasp the dichotomous characters with both hands. Her Daisy isn't kooky enough and she can't decide whether she's going to do a Brooklyn accent or not; it comes and goes. Similarly, her Melinda is cool and elegant, but she also needs to be grand and imperious. It's hard to watch Errico without thinking of Barbra Streisand's definitive performance of both women in Vincent Minnelli's underrated, 1970 big-screen treatment of the show. (Of course, you have to block out Yves Montand's mind-boggling performance opposite her, which is a challenge for many.)

At least Errico is ably supported onstage by Stephen Bogardus as Dr. Bruckner and John Cudia as Edward Moncrief. Broadway veteran Bogardus, still fit and handsome, does what he can with the material and sings with the same clarion tenor he's wielded for decades. For his part, the sexy Cudia plays the rake with panache and his golden voice climbs into the stratosphere at the climax of "She Wasn't You." It's wonderful to hear all three principals, as well as the ensemble, sing unamplified and Josh Clayton's savvy orchestrations for the 5-piece ensemble are a passable substitution considering the Rep's means and circumstances. The rest of the production, including some very questionable costuming and two cringe-worthy production numbers, needs our sympathy and not our condemnation.

On A Clear Day You Can See Forever
Through August 12
Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage at The Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: OvationTix

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