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1/13/12

On A Clear Day, You Cannot Escape A Dull Show

On A Clear Day You Can See Forever was announced to close later this month after only a few weeks of performances. While I tend to mourn the premature loss of Broadway’s children, I can release this one back into the wild. Point blank: I was not a fan.

But…as with my writing style and my adamant refusal of being a bitch, I will explain numerous aspects of the show and offset some of the negative aspects of the show with some of its positive moments. One thing that struck me over Bonnie and Clyde’s closing is that members of the press can exert a strong influence over a show’s future with the power of their word (stating the obvious, I know). As a huge theater fan, I would rather not take part in that and make any waves, nor act like my opinion is the be-all, end-all of whether or not you, as a reader, should see or not see a show. To expand on that, I would hate to have a performer, director or playwright be upset with me for putting my thoughts out there when they come from a more benevolent place then say, Ben Bradley of the NY Times.

Disclaimer over…on to the show. I’ll state outright that Michael Mayer is one of my all time favorite directors. Spring Awakening and American Idiot are top-notch and I have a feeling the upcoming Smash will be on my television rotary of watching/blogging. My issue with On A Clear Day starts with him…his updated concept has a twist in the proceedings, but very little thought otherwise. Add in some issues of execution and the show’s fate was sealed.

The original show (there have been previous versions of the show, including the original Broadway run and a film starring Barbra Streisand) revolves around a male psychologist hypnotizing a woman, only to reveal that said woman takes on the form of her past life in the 1940s as a jazz club singer. The psychologist pursues the pastlife, the woman pursues the psychologist…and well, there you go. Mayer takes that version and adds his modern spin to it: psychologist Mark Bruckner (Harry Connick Jr.) falls in love with Melinda (Jessie Mueller), the jazz-singing past life of present day patient David (David Turner). Oh, did I mention…David is a guy, a gay florist to be exact and he believes Dr. Bruckner is in love with him.

Speak up, Harry. We can't hear
you over that backdrop.
Thus, the tension is born; Mayer flipped the script by turning the female patient into a gay male. It is not a bad idea per say (and I do applaud Mayer for going outside his rock-show comfort zone and pushing the limits), but after the gender-swap, no thought was put into crafting a storyline into something engaging. The result? The show, even with a reincarnation gimmick, is a total bore. The relationships and character development felt weirdly inauthentic and the takeaway from the central love triangle in the aftermath is one of apathy.

At least the musical score was competent, if a little forgettable. The only number I can single out as iPod worthy, “Come Back to Me,” ironically, revealed to me what the show should have been (in my opinion). After the entire production is played so straight and depressing, “Come Back to Me,” a duet with Dr. Bruckner and Warren (David’s Lover, played very well by Drew Gehling), was played for laughs…and it worked. The staging was great, the vocals and chorography were on point by both actors and the number was fun and uplifting. Had the entire show been directed as a comedic farce (with a little drama), it might have worked out better.

I know I am throwing some shade at a man whom I genuinely respect and has boatloads of talent, but Connick Jr was disappointing. The man has a nice theater reel to his name, but his self-defeating, internalizing and analyzing psychologist was hard to watch just because it bypassed subtle and landed right into dullsville. To his credit, he pulled it together for some of the numbers, showing the audience what a star he is (in the Hugh Jackman or Neil Patrick Harris mold). But since the music was nothing remarkable in my book, his talents, whenever he tapped into them, did not amount to anything.

Mueller, in her Broadway Debut. Talk about scoring
a lead role, no?
Mueller has been getting a buzz going for herself as Melinda, to which I agree to some extent. Yes, she totally rocks the 40’s performer shtick, but I believe her performance crossed the line into overrated territory looking around the interweb to see such enthusiastic raves. C’mon…a 40’s performer is no ground-breaking, original character. Follies and Cabaret have full-on ensembles of them. Within the confines of the trope, she did a great job...but not that great.

Lastly, Turner seemed to just stroll through his role as David in an unaffected daze, but then again, the character was really underwritten and one-dimensional to begin with. He got in a number in the second act - “What Did I Have That I Don’t Have?” - that worked just on David’s (both of them) long overdue moment of catharsis. It was somewhat a relief that he can pull it out; otherwise, I would have begun questioning Turner’s career as a performer.

One last thing of note…Christine Jones, Michael Mayer’s go-to set designer, went over-the-top with the 60’s mod paraphernalia (the show is set in 1974, so the 60’s mod motif was remotely accurate). The result? Astonishing love, even though I am clearly biased towards that aesthetic. The rhyme or reason was not there when compared to her Tony-winning, epic American Idiot set or her minimalist Spring Awakening design, but this set piece had personality and a lot of it. Black and white color-blocking, neon accents…I’d move in tomorrow. My party and I were kidding when we said the mod, black-and-white curtain was the best part of the show…but it was highly memorable and covetable.

Unfortunately, as I hate to kick a show when it is down, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever does not have much going for it and should start packing. At least Raul Esparza will occupy the St James in April with Leap of Faith…that’s a positive thing, right? Oh wait…yeah, that does not speak well of Mayer’s ambitious, if messy and boring show. Don’t worry pal; I will be blogging (and probably loving) the hell out of Smash…come February, you will be hearing from me week-in and week-out.


Photo Credits: Zap2It.com

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