Theater archives

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever: Tangled Tuner Tune-up Try


In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association officially removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. In 1974—according to director Michael Mayer’s revisal of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, the 1965 Alan Jay Lerner–Burton Lane musical—one Dr. Mark Bruckner (Harry Connick Jr.) presented a case history that might have made the APA add both “psychiatry” and “musical theater” to its list.

In the original Clear Day, Barbara Harris enthralled ’60s audiences as Daisy Gamble, a scatterbrained Village girl with psychic powers, nurtured by young, sturdy-voiced John Cullum as Dr. Bruckner, whose hypnotherapy led her back into her previous life as Melinda, a suitor-plagued 18th-century heiress. Dr. Bruckner then complicated matters by falling in love with her prior personality instead of her present-day self. Harris’s iridescent charm redeemed Lerner’s rickety script, with help from his brilliantly saucy lyrics and from Lane’s lushly memorable melodies. But Harris’s iridescence proved irreplaceable, meaning the show slept on archival shelves.

Mayer’s reconceived version, using a new script by Peter Parnell, moves the action forward to the ’70s as aforesaid and adds a new layer of gender confusion. Parnell turns Daisy into Davey (David Turner), a twinkish gay florist-shop assistant, who, like Daisy, has a stuffy, controlling, present-day boyfriend (Drew Gehling) and a past incarnation named Melinda (Jessie Mueller)—in this version a bluesy 1940s band singer, with whom Connick’s Dr. Bruckner duly falls in love, apparently not noticing that her voice emanates from the waifish young man sitting blank-eyed on his office couch.

Mayer complicates matters further by eccentrically reshuffling the score (bolstered heavily with Lerner–Lane songs borrowed from the 1951 Fred Astaire film Royal Wedding), so that numbers never seem an exact fit for the character or situation. Catherine Zuber’s aggressively pastel costumes and Joann M. Hunter’s disco-bounce choreography turn the chorus, whether as Village denizens or as psychiatry students, into peppy teens from a TV dance show.

Except when Connick, or Kerry O’Malley as his lovelorn co-worker, is singing, the music tends to blare tinnily; Sarah Stiles, as Davey’s gal-pal, provides an evening-long earache. Mueller, when not pushed into overamplified belting, displays genuine quality, as does Christine Jones’s cunning Op Art set, cleverly lit by Kevin Adams. And Parnell’s tidily bittersweet final scene almost compensates for the muddled yarn that precedes it. Connick, solid and warm-voiced, has instant audience appeal, but often seems to be appealing for rescue from the surrounding psychodrama.