Review: On a Clear Day You Can See Forever

This muddled rewrite of a problematic 1965 musical drives us insane.

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  • Photograph: Paul Kolnik

    On a Clear Day You Can See Forever

    On a Clear Day You Can See Forever at St. James Theatre

  • Photograph: Paul Kolnik

    On a Clear Day You Can See Forever

    On a Clear Day You Can See Forever at St. James Theatre

  • Photograph: Paul Kolnik

    On a Clear Day You Can See Forever

    On a Clear Day You Can See Forever at St. James Theatre

  • Photograph: Paul Kolnik

    On a Clear Day You Can See Forever

    On a Clear Day You Can See Forever at St. James Theatre

Photograph: Paul Kolnik

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever at St. James Theatre

Time Out Ratings

<strong>Rating: </strong>2/5

It was broke, but they sure ain't fixed it. In fact, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever's bumbling show doctors should be sued for malpractice and felonious misuse of star talent. Manslaughter, too: The patient died on the slab. The famously flawed 1965 Burton Lane--Alan Jay Lerner romantic comedy about extrasensory perception, past lives and a kooky gal with a magical green thumb has been reincarnated into a clunky bore that switches time periods and gender, inserts a gay subplot and turns its putative hero—psychologist Dr. Mark Bruckner (Connick)—into a creepy, manipulative stalker. Is this a tuneful retro quirkfest or Dressed to Kill?

Musical-theater geeks can parse Peter Parnell's book rewrite (hint: the best lines are Lerner's), as well as the Frankenscore that director Michael Mayer and arranger Lawrence Yurman have sewn together from On a Clear Day's songs and numbers from Lane and Lerner's soundtrack to Fred Astaire's 1951 film Royal Wedding. These latter interpolations musicalize the story of Melinda Wells (Mueller), a 1940s jazz singer whom Bruckner discovers living inside the psyche of young gay florist David Gamble (Turner). Bruckner falls for Melinda, effectively courting her while David is under hypnosis, all the while believing that the good doctor is treating him to quit smoking and overcome commitment phobia.

Even by the daffy standards of midcentury American musical comedy, the premise is silly. But by shifting the frame from 1965 to '74 and placing the emphasis less on David's recovery than on Bruckner's mental fragility (he hasn't gotten over a dead wife), this makeover strives for a psychological consistency and emotional heft that the book doesn't achieve and the songs can't support. Connick and Mueller have phenomenal voices (at times it's like hearing Sinatra and Garland harmonize), but they're swamped by boorish, intrusive dialogue. Musicals—even slight, ditsy failures—are delicate blooms; prune them roughly or crossbreed them recklessly, and they'll surely wilt.

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St. James Theatre. Music by Burton Lane. Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner. New book by Peter Parnell. Dir. Michael Mayer. With Harry Connick Jr., Jessie Mueller, David Turner. 2hrs 30mins. One intermission. See complete event information.

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