On a Clear Day You Can See Forever
It began when I took my seat and caught a first glimpse at Tony Award winner Christine Jones’s scenic design. (Most the design team, including Jones and lighting designer Kevin Adams, have worked with director Michael Mayer on either Spring Awakening or American Idiot, or both.) Just by looking at the “curtain,” I knew this was a great design. It’s total 70s, op-art, meant to be trippy and maybe a bit disorienting. (This is perfect for a show about hypnosis and regressions.) Once the show began, I could see that Adams’s lighting design so perfectly complemented the scenic design. The psychedelic colors kept changing and twisting into groovy swirls. Throughout the show, the seamlessly matched designs continue the theme of uncertainty, with the “backdrops” crossing in and out, so nothing was as it seems.
And the swooning continued when the talented cast did their thing. There are wonderful voices singing this lush and lovely score by Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner. Director Mayer really knows how to assemble an incredible array of voices.
(Before swooning over the cast, a moment to explain the story: Dr. Mark Bruckner (Harry Connick, Jr.) is a psychiatrist who takes on new patient, David Gamble (David Turner). Gamble wants to quit smoking, so he asks Bruckner to hypnotize him. Bruckner obliges but while Gamble is under hypnosis, Bruckner discovers Melinda (Jessie Mueller), a 40s jazz singer brought out in Gamble’s regression. (The show is set in 1974.) Bruckner starts falling for Melinda, which is confusing for Gamble and his boyfriend, Warren (Drew Gehling). Don’t worry if this sounds confusing to you, too. It’s all very clear in the show. Or, let Michael Mayer explain it: "David falls in love with Mark, a man who's unavailable because he's heterosexual. Mark falls in love with Melinda, but he can't have her because, well, she's dead. Now that's a love triangle!")
David Turner, who was recently seen in Arcadia, is buoyant and endearingly goofy as the highly suggestible Davey Gamble. Featured members Sarah Stiles (as spunky best friend Muriel), Drew Gehling (impressive as the forlorn boyfriend Warren), and ensemble members like the sassy American Idiot alumna Alysha Umpress and the perky Catch Me if You Can alumna Alex Ellis are having a ball bringing this story to life, especially when “On the S.S. Bernard Cohn.”
Truth be told, I found the weakest link in the cast to be the marquee draw: Harry Connick, Jr. He has a great voice – there’s no denying that. But he was disappointingly and thoroughly uncharismatic on stage. Moreover, he dreadfully lacked chemistry with his co-stars, male and female. While watching him look uncomfortable singing on stage (he appears to need to hold his body in a very specific way in order to get out the right notes), I longed for the smooth charm of Marc Kudisch, who played the role at the Vineyard. I saw On a Clear Day twice in previews and Connick improved slightly. It seems he has the acting part down and he has the singing down; he just can't do them together.
But not to worry, because there is most definitely a swoon-worthy, star-turn performance in this show, and it comes by way of Broadway newcomer Jessie Mueller. Mueller is sultry and smooth and beautiful. Her gorgeous, velvety voice is incredible. In the show, her character talks about finding meaning in the words. Mueller finds meaning the notes. Truly, she’s sensational. The thing that separates her from most of the other female vocalists on the boards these days is soul. Mueller most definitely has it!
And, finally, a great big swoon for visionary director Michael Mayer. Along with book writer Peter Parnell, Mayer re-imagines this nutty tale. In Mayer’s more than capable hands, this is practically a new musical. (Is he worried about what traditionalist might think? Nah. He says, "Since the first time somebody set a Shakespeare play in a period other than 16th-century England, other people's work has been reinterpreted.") Even though the show is set 37 years in the past, with dalliances even farther back in time, this feels totally modern and fresh. Mayer has taken a lovely score, updated the book and created a beautiful musical that had me smiling the entire time.
This is the first must-see musical of the season, a true delight that is not to be missed.
For more information about On a Clear Day You Can See Forever and to purchase tickets, visit onacleardaybroadway.com. (Be sure to check out the "press" section for lots of great bonus material.)