It's a testament to Harry Connick, Jr.'s charm and talent that he manages to still be standing at the end of the re-imagined "On A Clear Day You Can See Forever."
The sets and lighting alone are so aggressively overwhelming that the audience must concentrate hard to hear the well-known numbers, including "What Did I Have That I Don't Have?" and the title song. To call this a revival is unfair; it's more of a reinvention.
Peter Parnell wrote the new book, based on Alan Jay Lerner's original book from the 1965 play. The music by Burton Lane and Lerner is the same, and songs were taken from their movies to supplement this.
Michael Mayer, whose Playbill credit has him as "re-conceiver," has done cutting-edge, excellent work in "American Idiot" and "Spring Awakening." This is neither.
It is, however, brave, and art should take chances, but there is more to a Broadway show than gambling. Risk is not enough to save it. Connick is not enough to save it. A love of Barbra Streisand, who starred in the film version, is not enough to save it.
Though most of the people on stage are terrific, David Turner, who plays the formerly female character, but now David, is fabulous. He has a great voice and the sweetness and light necessary to play a florist's assistant.
The show has changed, which in itself not necessarily a bad thing, and clearly those with a vested interest in this, those representing the Lerner and Lowe estates, approve. The question is why?
At the very least why assault the audience with lights, sets and costumes designed to induce migraines? Yes, the 70s had some unspeakably ugly clothes, and as someone who had elephant bells, with contrasting pockets worn with Qiana blouses, we all know it was not a decade of quiet good taste in clothes. But must every outfit be in blinding shades? Did Connick get a clause written into his contract allowing him to stay in a sedate blue suit?
This show has a gay angle, and if this were going to work anywhere, Broadway is the place. "On A Clear Day You Can See Forever" is a confusing story, regardless of sexual orientation or gender. In this version, Connick plays psychiatrist Dr. Mark Bruckner, a grieving widower, who finds something wrong with every date his colleague Dr. Sharone Stein (the lovely Kerry O'Malley) fixes him up with, though she harbors an unrequited crush on him.
Bruckner teaches a class on hypnosis. One of his students, Muriel (Sarah Stiles who is far louder than necessary) drags her best friend, David, to the class. He tries to quit his five-pack-a day cigarette habit.
It turns out David is very susceptible to hypnosis. He's also undecided about whether to move in with Warren (Drew Gehling) his lawyer boyfriend. While under Dr. Bruckner's hypnosis, David starts talking and singing like a woman, Melinda (Jessie Mueller making her Broadway debut).
Melinda was a singer in the 1940s, and it's understandable why Dr. Bruckner falls in love with her. She's lovely, gregarious, sensible and fun. She's also talented, and oh yeah, dead.
It turns out that David was born on the day Melinda was killed in a plane crash 30 years earlier - stay with us - and Dr. Bruckner communes with David's past life while David is hypnotized. Melinda is one of David's past lives.
Connick, who conquered Broadway and was nominated for a Tony for "Pajama Game" had the audience before he said a word. He never really loses them; he might have to hurl rocks to do that, but the reaction to this is measured. Just four nights after opening, the St. James Theatre had some empty seats, and it's hard to see this running for a while - no matter how clear the day.
Photo/Video credit: Nicolle Rivelli (Connick photo) Paul Kolnik (others)