Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Theater Review: On a Clear Day

Harry Connick, Jr. Photo: Palma Kolansky
On a Clear Day, It's Still Hard to See
By Lauren Yarger
Take one musical with a decent score by Burton Lane that made Broadway stars out of John Cullum and Barbara Harris, shake up the original weak book by lyricist Alan Jay Lerner, add hearthrob crooner Harry Connick, Jr. in the lead and you have a recipe for: well, a good score by Burton Lane.

The attempt to mix things up and "re-imagine" On a Clear Day You Can See Forever pretty much fails to make itself a contender for a long Broadway run because the odd story, involving psychiatrist Mark Bruckner's romance with Melinda Wells (Jessie Mueller), a reincarnated World War II chanteuse brought out through the hypnosis of a patient, still is very weak. The only change is that the patient this time around, David Gamble (David Turner), is a gay guy instead of a woman (Daisy, in the previous version, a role played in the movie by Barbra Stresiand).

So what does this mean? That a doctor having a romance with a woman who lives in the body of a guy is more interesting, hip and modern than a doctor having a romance with a woman living in the body of another woman? The question itself is so bizarre that it gives away the answer -- none of this is an interesting enough plot around which to make a musical. It does pose the question, however, why it is OK for female roles to be played by men? There are plenty of male roles in musicals and plenty of gay guy characters on the stage already. If a black character were "reimagined" as a white one, there probably would be flack. After all, it isn't seen as appropriate to have characters written as black or any particular race played by a white person. Just take a look at the recent flap over Hartford, CT's staging of The Motherf***ker with the Hat at TheaterWorks with white, rather than as-written Latino leads. It didn't go over very well with the playwright and a lot of other folks.

But because Daisy is a woman, like Brian Bedford's turn as Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Ernest last season, or the role of Edna Turnblad always being played by a male in Hairspray for some unexplained reason, no one seems to be offended when a role written for a woman is suddenly re-imagined as a man. Voila! Daisy the flower shop girl becomes David, the flower shop boy. Well, let's say that the men making these decisions (we have few women directors or book writers for musicals) don't apparently see anything offensive about this. The many women actors, who outnumber males looking for acting jobs by quite a bit, probably are quite offended especially since Turner has an adequate, but not super singing voice (and I wouldn't be surprised to learn that any ethical psychiatrist probably has some issues with Bruckner's behavior here too, but I digress).

I'd be willing to go along with the change if it greatly improved the story. It doesn't. Director/reconceiver Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening, American Idiot, Next to Normal, Hair et al) and Peter Parnell, who penned the new book (enhancing the original the musical with tunes from Barton/Lerner movie scores) are the decision makers here. Lawrence Yurman music directs and orchestrations are by Doug Besterman. Here's what they came up with:

Bruckner (Connick) hypnotizes Gamble to help him quit his five-pack-a-day smoking habit, because his boyfriend, Warren (Drew Gehling) doesn't like it. As the patient regresses, however, he slips into another personality -- that of Melinda in the year 1943. It's been three years since Bruckner lost his wife, Claire, and none of the women her best friend and Bruckner's colleague Sharone Stein (Kerry O'Malley) has set him up with have compared, but the psychaitrist suddenly finds himself very attracted to Melinda. He increases the number of therapy sessions with Gamble to continue getting to know Melinda. Gamble doesn't have any knowledge of his other personality, but does have vague memories of the dates/sessions and passionate embraces and comes to believe the doctor has romantic feelings for him. He might also return them (although why, when he doesn't really know the doctor isn't clear).

Bruckner begins to believe in reincarnation and to teach it at the university, which stirs some controversy. Sarah Stiles stands out as one of the students and Gamble's good friend, Muriel Bunson; Hannah (Alex Ellis) is a the class slut -- oh, I get it. Stereotypical women roles are OK....

When Bruckner discovers that Melinda really did exist, he has to decide whether to try to alter her fate or suffer the pain of losing another woman he loves.

If you can see past the really weak plot (and some pretty lame lyrics and dialogue -- why didn't they change them while they were giving Daisy a sex-change operation?), the unexciting choreography (Joann M. Hunter) (with the exception of a clever number where Bruckner dances simultaneously with Gamble and Melinda), maybe it will become clear why Mayer and Parnell set in the '70's (big upgrade from the 1965 original) for some reason other than to give costume designer Catherine Zuber license to use a bunch of loud colors in styles of the period that clash with Christine Jones' annoying checkerboard/psychedelic set design (and those 1940s microphones look like painted Country Curtains rods). We kind of doubt the same-sex relationships would play so easily in 1974 so why not really re-imagine the story for 2011, where there are a lot of great female singers?

Case in point is Meueller, making her Broadway debut here, with a lovely voice singing songs like "You're All the World to Me," "On the S.S Bernard Cohn," the haunting "Melinda,"Go to Sleep," and "Too Late Now." She's a pleasure to listen to and a good actress. I would have loved to see her tackle the full part of Daisy/Melinda. OK, enough said. Connick is awfully pleasant on the ears as well, singing the title song, among others, though he seemed to lose steam vocally as the show progressed.

On a Clear Day plays at the St. James Theatre, 246 West 44th St., NYC. Tickets are available by clicking here.

Christians might also like to know:
--Song about being born again refers to reincarnation
--Comment made that there are 100 realities and some fall on Mecca
--God's name taken in vain
--homosexual activity

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York. Shifting from reviewing to producing, Yarger owns Gracewell Productions, which produced the Table Reading Series at the Palace Theater in Waterbury, CT. She trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run. She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She wrote reviews of Broadway and Off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She was a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice president and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (producer of the annual awards ceremony) and a member of The League of Professional Theatre Women, serving as Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter. Yarger was a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2024 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women or people of a certain race are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide, or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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