Sexual reassignment surgery has gone on at On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, the 1965 Alan Jay Lerner/Burton Lane musical about a gal with ESP whose grief-stricken psychiatrist is obsessed with the gal’s past-life persona, Melinda.
In this version — with a rethought book by Peter Parnell and director Michael Mayer — the gal is now a gay male florist named David (David Turner).
So when the doc (honey-throated Harry Connick Jr) becomes smitten with David’s inner Melinda (who’s now a ’40s jazz singer played by Jessie Mueller), it’s extra twisty that David responds by getting wild about Harry.
That’s not all that’s different.
In aiming for nowness, the show manages to be both bigger and smaller than the original.
By interpolating more songs than they’ve dropped, this Day boasts 25 numbers (including reprises) instead of the original’s 14.
And the ESP is gone, presumably to give things some verisimilitude.
Alas, the awful sets — mostly checkerboard trellises — are cartoony and distancing enough to have the opposite effect, not allowing you the freedom to really believe in the wacky goings-on.
What’s more, they’re chintzy, the ’40s getting summoned by just four microphones, a piano, and a riser!
It doesn’t help that Act One has too many songs and jokes that don’t land (though a dance trio for the doc, his patient, and the past-life lady is deftly amusingly).
But in a new trend for offbeat love musicals (see Bonnie and Clyde — all right, don’t), this one improves after intermission, developing some weight, along with some superior show tunes.
The show’s three big numbers are stacked up practically in a row toward the end. It’s almost like a Mamma Mia! mixtape medley.
By the end, you’ve become intrigued enough by the sexuality complications stemming from the Doctor/David dynamic to almost forget the relative jumble that preceded it.
Connick is especially touching as he’s forced to confront the death of his various lady loves and move on.
And while Turner and Mueller (who occasionally seems to be channeling Liza Minnelli in New York, New York) can’t approximate the star power of the original’s Barbara Harris, they’re basically appealing.
On a Clear Day is a mixed bag of gems and groaners that might have you longing for it’s own past life, but when it finally attains clarity, it can be a lilting reminder of the allure of the unavailable.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 11, 2011