Recently went to see a preview of On A Clear Day at the St. James Theatre. Starring Harry Connick, Jr., the revival is more of a redux, as the story has been reimagined slightly, with the focus now being more on Dr. Mark Bruckner than on Daisy Gamble.
Originally, a starring vehicle for Barbara Harris on Broadway and Barbra Streisand in the movie version, this time out, Connick is clearly at the center of the piece, although the ensemble cast is excellent and fills things out nicely. In this version, Daisy is now David, played with breezy ditz by David Turner (who was absolutely marvelous). And his long past self, Melinda Wells, now a singer from the 40’s, is played by Jessie Mueller. In the original, both Harris and Streisand played both parts. But in splitting David/Daisy and Melinda into two unique characters—who are able to occupy the stage at the same time, I found the story much more haunting.
By adding the gender issues involved with Mark falling in love with Melinda, through the
physical presence of David, who in turn begins to fall in love with Mark, the show has added depth. It’s an impossible triangle, and one which I think adds resonance to what was essentially a fluff piece before. (Although, that said, I did watch the movie over and over as a kid.) To add layers to Connick’s character, the story is framed around the loss of his wife, and the grief and loneliness that result from that loss. I think it makes Mark’s somewhat callous use of David and his past more understandable.
Set in 1974, the costumes and set seemed to come more from the late sixties, but the colors were fun and provided as a provocative backdrop to the “modern” day parts of the story. David’s magical touch with flowers remains along with his romance with Warren Smith, played by the charming Drew Gehling. Added or at least not remembered by me, was a pining colleague of Mark’s, and a wonderful turn by Lori Wilner as Mark’s secretary.
The music, some of it taken from other Lerner fare, is fabulous. Particularly when Connick and/or Mueller sing. Ms. Mueller’s voice is really strong, and the audience has no trouble at all buying her as an up and coming singer in the 1940’s; especially in her first number “Open Your Eyes.” Connick, who seems more comfortable here than he did in the Pajama Game (which was wonderful on all counts by the way), blends into the cast with remarkable ease, and at times you even forget his star power. But when he opens his mouth, particularly on the first act number, “She Isn’t for You”, and the title piece “On A Clear Day”, it is pure heaven. His voice, although aging slightly, is still remarkable. Smooth, easy and sensual all at the same time.
Turner’s “Hurry! It’s Lovely Up Here” is delightful. And his physicality throughout the musical is great fun to watch. The transformation of David into Melinda is both humorous and heart-rending as we begin to see the pain in store for both David and Mark. A moment in the middle of the play when Mark dances with Melinda (and by default also with David) brought tears to my eyes. I wanted everyone to have their happy ending. And yet I knew, it was impossible.
Overall, I thought it was a wonderful show. And I’ll be honest, based on the changes, I
wasn’t sure I was going to like David as much as I did Daisy. But the truth is, I liked him much more. Turner kept David from dropping into stereotype, instead giving the character strength as well as ditz and a charming innocence that pulls the audience in and has them rooting for his happiness. How I wish Turner could have been Jesus in Godspell, it would have been an entirely different revival.
All in all, it was a wonderful evening at the theatre. And I highly recommend it. Sometimes things change and they manage to lose their luster. Sometimes though, the changes only make everything better. On A Clear Day falls into the latter category.
On A Clear Day, St. James Theatre, 246 W. 44th Street, (212) 239-6200, www.telecharge.com