In his mixed but optimistic review of the 2011 Harry Connick Jr.–toplined Broadway revival of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, New York magazine’s Scott Brown pinpointed what he called a “congenital defect” in the 1965 Burton Lane–Alan Jay Lerner show: “It’s a chamber musical trapped in a Broadway extravaganza’s body,” he wrote.
Now, thanks to Off Broadway’s Irish Rep and director Charlotte Moore, On a Clear Day has finally been transformed into a chamber musical. The good news: The sunny show works beautifully on Irish Rep’s postage-stamp-size stage, and Lane’s music sounds gorgeous with an on-stage five-piece orchestra (which includes a harp!). Even the amateurish painted scenic tableaux, projected onto backdrops with each location change, look more charming than chintzy. (Though the New York City skyline rendering did resemble something you’d make in a paint-and-sip class after a few glasses of cabernet.)
The not-so-good news: Moore hasn’t quite solved this Rubik’s Cube of a show. Her adaptation of Lerner’s famously problematic book certainly streamlines the plot, eliminating a few characters along the way. Now, Daisy (a sparkling Melissa Errico, who also starred in Irish Rep’s recent Finian’s Rainbow revival) asks Dr. Mark Bruckner (Stephen Bogardus, who could afford to tone it down just a notch) to hypnotize her into quitting smoking because she needs a job; it has nothing to do with her boyfriend Warren, who didn’t make the cut in Moore’s script. “I’m down to my last month’s rent,” Daisy says in the first scene—yet she mentions the job only a few times after that.
Intriguingly, Moore has interpolated “Who Is There Among Us Who Knows”—a song added to, and later cut from, the 1970 On a Clear Day film that starred Barbra Streisand—yet she didn’t add the corresponding character (Daisy’s stepbrother, played by Jack Nicholson); here, it becomes a bizarrely moody commentary on Dr. Bruckner’s research, sung by his students. And “Wait Till We’re Sixty-Five” has morphed into a yay-retirement number for Daisy’s pals. Why are all these people who are dancing nimbly on a rooftop so excited about their golden years?
Still, no matter how anyone fiddles with On a Clear Day, there are a few things that will always work. Sure, the hypnotism premise—which brings out Daisy’s 18th-century aristocratic British alter ego Melinda—is a bit dated, but the idea of reincarnation isn’t so wackadoodle. And oh, those tunes! I defy you to listen to Errico singing “Hurry, It’s Lovely Up Here”—Daisy’s paean to potted plants (“Life here is rosy/ If you’re a posy”)—without cracking a smile, or the gleeful “S.S. Bernard Cohn” without tapping a toe. The title song is one of the most glorious odes to optimism you’ll ever hear: “On a clear day, how it will astound you/ That the glow of your being outshines every star.”
Now, if you really want to see wackadoodle, check out the hacked-up-by-studio-execs Vincente Minnelli–directed movie. It’s bonkers (those Cecil Beaton period costumes!), but Babs looks fabulous.
On a Clear Day You Can See Forever opened June 28, 2018, and runs through Aug. 12. Tickets and information: irishrep.org