The 1965 musical On A Clear Day You Can See Forever was something of an edgy trip back in its day. More open-minded fans must have found it pretty groovy that lyricist/librettist Alan Jay Lerner and composer Burton Lane—who between them had helped create such Golden Age classics as My Fair Lady, Camelot and Finian’s Rainbow—were taking on subjects like ESP, reincarnation and telepathic communication in a romantic comedy. Like another musical that had flirted with pop psychology and pseudoscience the year before, Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents’ Anyone Can Whistle, Forever had both a sublime score and a patina of hipness, or at least daring, but was thwarted by its fanciful mess of a book.
Yet while Whistle, which closed nine days after opening and has never been revived on Broadway, is remembered chiefly for its glorious songs, the storyline in Clear Day resonated enough to inspire a film adaptation starring Barbra Streisand and Yves Montand and, in 2011, a Broadway revival starring Harry Connick Jr. and Jessie Mueller (in her Broadway debut), and featuring a new libretto that managed to be even clumsier than the original.
Happily, Clear Day is in far better hands in the thoroughly charming new production by the Irish Repertory Theatre, adapted and helmed by artistic director Charlotte Moore. The reliably supple and attractive performers Melissa Errico and Stephen Bogardus are respectively cast as Daisy Gamble, a young woman whose insecurity betrays her unique gifts—to make the most stubborn flower seeds bloom as if by magic and to know precisely when telephones will ring, to cite two examples—and Dr. Mark Bruckner, a hypnotist she consults in hopes of giving up cigarettes, and who instead regresses her to a seeming former life as an 18-century British aristocrat named Melinda Welles.
In the original book, Daisy seeks out Mark’s services for the benefit of her fiancé. Moore has eliminated the last character (and another, that of a Greek shipping magnate who takes an interest in Mark’s work with Daisy), and established Daisy as a single gal who wants to stop smoking in order to secure a job at a company that frowns on the nasty habit. If that premise is a stretch, particularly for a show set in the ‘60s, it conveniently makes our heroine both available and, more importantly, autonomous.
Given our current environment, some audience members may nonetheless find themselves unable to get past the prospect of a male therapist pursuing a female client in a compromised state—even in as flamboyantly non-serious a piece as this is, and even if Mark’s initial interest is in finding out more about Melinda. (I’m waiting for the review that labels Mark a predator, because a hypnotized woman cannot give consent to accompany a man to a museum exhibit.) But anyone who has managed to retain a sense of humor and a belief in creative license will easily digest lines like “You’re not going to go on using my head for a motel,” as Daisy, hardly in thrall to Mark, barks at one point, and laugh at Mark’s buffoonish remark that “Any other girl would be proud to be part of this adventure” without feeling the urge to throttle him.
Moore wisely doesn’t overplay Daisy’s revised status, in fact, but rather makes it an extension of the original heroine’s quirky, independent spirit. This Clear Day remains wacky, breezy and quaint, in the best sense, in following how an unlikely meeting of minds leads to a mating if souls. Enrico and Bogardus are enchanting together, and independently, lending robust voices to such enduring gems as Clear Day’s title song, “He Wasn’t You” (a song performed, here and elsewhere, with different pronouns and tenses) and “What Did I Have That I Don’t Have?” On top of that, Errico also manages to transform herself from a self-conscious working-class New Yawker to a coolly elegant English noblewoman without batting an eyelash (figuratively, that is).
The leads get winning support from John Cudia’s drily rakish turn as Melinda’s ne’er-do-well artist husband and Daisy Hobbs’s and Caitlin Gallogly’s sprightly performances as Daisy’s friends and fellow strivers. Lane’s lushly melodic tunes are beautifully sung by the whole cast, which delivers crisp, vivid harmonies under John Bell’s music direction. If Clear Day won’t entirely transport you back to what now seems like a more innocent time, it’s the perfect tonic for an early summer evening.
On a Clear Day You Can See Forever opened June 28, 2018 at the Irish Repertory Theatre and runs through August 12. Tickets and information: irishrep.org