PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: On a Clear Day You Can See Forever — Lerner Permit

News   PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: On a Clear Day You Can See Forever — Lerner Permit
 
Meet the first-nighters at the Broadway opening of the musical On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, revived, revised and reincarnated for the 21st century.

Harry Connick, Jr.; guests Debra Messing, Brian d'Arcy James and Hilary Swank
Harry Connick, Jr.; guests Debra Messing, Brian d'Arcy James and Hilary Swank Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

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One can't help wondering what the late eight-times-wed Alan Jay Lerner would make of his Daisy Gamble, returning to Broadway for the first time in the Lerner-Burton Lane musical, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Dec. 11 at the St. James. In this "revisal" authorized by the Lerner heirs, somebody pulled his Daisy — to name names: director/re-conceiver Michael Mayer and his deputy, adapter Peter Parnell. Taking a Gamble, they turned Daisy into Davey, a gay florist who also takes his smoking addiction to a shrink to cure through hypnosis.

A highly suggestible type, Davey — like Daisy before him — overshoots the runway, travels into time past and turns into a past life, Melinda Wells, who seduces said psychiatrist, Dr. Mark Bruckner. The hitch in this time-travelling is that the arrow-straight doctor has to go through a gay guy to get his true love. There's the rub!

Granted, Lerner's original book was a pretty rocky ride on the time machine itself, but it at least kept the gender straight and created a flashy tour de force for the actress playing Daisy/Melinda (Barbara Harris on Broadway, Barbra Streisand on film and, most recently, Kristin Chenoweth, at Encores!).

Here, the wealth is shared by David Turner and Jessie Mueller, requiring much head-scratching and soul-serving from the doctor on the case, Harry Connick, Jr., flashbacking over the case in front of his medical peers. The original ride stopped in 18th century England; this one runs from 1974 to 1943 where Melinda is a nightclub chanteuse who only sings "Royal Wedding" songs — effortless Lerner-Lane evergreens like "Too Late Now," "Ev'ry Night at Seven," "Open Your Eyes," and Fred Astaire's ceiling song, "You're All the World to Me" — and it should be added that Mueller, in a dazzling Broadway bow, sings the hell out of them.

The Clear Day candy box is full of goodies as well, and most of them have made the reprise: "She Wasn't You," "Come Back to Me," the haunting "Melinda," "Hurry! It's Lovely Up Here," "Love With All the Trimmings," "Wait 'Til We're Sixty-Five," the title tune, "On the S.S. Bernard Cohn" and "What Did I Have That I Don't Have?"

[flipbook] That glorious score gave some buoyancy to a leaden plot top-heavy with psychobabble and reincarnation mumbo-jumbo — and Lerner was no stranger to book problems, save for My Fair Lady, which had an excellent first draft.

Indeed, the whole book to Paint Your Wagon was scrapped for the movie version, and Paddy Chayefsky came in to start a new script from Square One. He came up with some sort of triangle to hang the songs on — Jean Seberg/Clint Eastwood/Lee Marvin.

Mayer, thinking he was a pioneering revisionist, was surprised to hear Chayfesky got there first when told at the after-party that was splashed over three floors of The Plaza. On a clear day, at Vassar in 1996, he saw the gay twist to Lerner's un-Clear Day. "I was working on Side Man at New York Stage and Film, and it was like a light bulb went off in my head. Fifteen years ago — a long schlep."

And an uphill one, too — but "I've loved every minute of it, all the ups and the downs along the way, and I've really loved this company. I'm very proud of the production.

"I think the hardest thing was discovering, in the middle of the process, that what seemed like it would be a revival in the more conventional sense became really doing a new musical in the conventional sense. It evolved every day — huge evolutions and a lot of change and a lot of rethinking so it was a bear to do, but it was a wonderful bear. We all believe in it so it was a pleasure to do, but it was hard."


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Connick made the psychoanalyst sexy and (with glasses) cerebral. "Ah, yes, that does the trick," he joshed in agreement. "Actually, my sister is a psychiatrist, and I bounced a few things off of her and did as much research as I possibly could. "My guy goes on this terrible personal journey and tries to find his way out, and he has to dig very, very deep within himself to figure out what's real and what's not real and what's right and wrong. I like going on that journey every night."

The thing that sold him on the show—which he, in turn is using to sell the show—is, of course, the music. "It's a beautiful score," Connick admitted helplessly. "I feel very, very lucky. And just a great group of people I get to work with every day."

Dazzlingly decked out for the post-show bash, Mueller had a whole press contingent on their hands and knees searching for a lost earring, but it didn't dampen her spirits which were still high from the cheering she had gotten earlier in the evening.

"The crowd was really with us tonight," Mueller remembered. "There was a lot of love in that room, and we were feeling it. It was a thrill. It was really a thrill."

Yes, she's abundantly aware of Melinda's "Babs" history — "but the thing about this that's so much fun is that it's re-imagined so now the role is split between me and David Turner so we really felt that we could create something from scratch, which was fun and freeing. I was just telling somebody that I think that I'm more of a Davey than a Melinda so I'm really trying to find my inner Melinda. She's just so full of life and joy and living moment to moment, and I think that's how everybody wants to live. I hope I can learn something from her through this process."

Kerry O'Malley
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Dr. Bruckner's true love is also a doctor, on the sidelines with platonic coating, and Kerry O'Malley said she has fun playing her. "She has kept some really strong values," the actress said. "I think she's a great lady. And she's new to this."

As Davey's true love who must put up with his misunderstood infatuation with the psychiatrist, Drew Gehling quietly wins sympathy. "When you play any character, you really have to make an effort to find the truth and what makes that character unique and try to play as much of the real situation as you possibly can," he remarked, "and, in a situation like that, you have to just trust it. You are right for this person and you fight for him, just like you would in real life. And you sometimes find that those two ideas between the two people don't always add up. I think you can't know that in advance or else there's nothing dramatic or interesting about it."

The show's wig champ is Heather Ayers, who runs through five every performance. "I go on three dates with Harry Connick, Jr. Every night, it's a thrill. Also, I get to sing in the Vedado Club, and I get to sing backup for Jessie's amazing number, 'Ev'ry Night at Seven,' which is so much fun. She's so talented. I think that Harry has called Jessie a 'super-freak' because she is so terrific."

Sarah Stiles, formerly of Avenue Q and Spelling Bee, is the show's squeaky-voiced comedienne. "I get to be more of a lady, I guess, in this one," she was amazed to note. "It's nice to wear a miniskirt and high heels in a show."

David Turner
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Like the rest of the ensemble, Zachary Prince and Benjamin Eakeley are double-cast in different decades. "I like that I get to play a character in the '70s and a character in the '40s," said Prince. "We get to tell both of the storylines and then culminate at the end, so that's fun." The biggest difference in decades? Eakeley said hair, but Prince said the pants ("a little tighter in the '70s"). A full complement of the "Smash" cast (Debra Messing, Megan Hilty, Anjelica Huston, Brian d'Arcy James, Jaime Cepero, Jack Davenport, Raza Jaffrey, Christian Borle, Katharine McPhee, and producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan) dutifully showed up on opening night in support of Mayer (their pilot director). "We travel in a pack," sez one. The Broadway-themed series begins airing in February on NBC.

The only Daisy to be found on the premises — other than the giant sign marking Davey's flower shop — was The Secret Garden's Daisy Eagan, no longer the little girl Tony winner.

Also in attendance: Lily Rabe of Seminar, Kelli O'Hara (Connick's Pajama Game Babe) with hubby Greg Naughton, Vanity Fair's Amy Fine Collins and daughter Flora, twice-Oscared Hilary Swank and Mariska Hargitay (hinting she's stage-bound soon), Donna Murphy and Shawn Elliott, CBS's Mo Rocca, Reuters editor Brian Moss, composer Henry Krieger, Stanley Bahorek (fresh from Queen of the Mist and headed for Merrily We Roll Along at Encores!), Wesley Taylor, Sweeney-Tonyed Len Cariou, director-choreographer Jerry Mitchell, lawyer Mark Sendroff, Thoroughly Modern Millie lyricist Dick Scanlan (and perhaps this Clear Day revision's lyricist?), agent George Lane, director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw ("just did a workshop of Tuck Everlasting and working on Disney's Aladdin and many Mormons"), William Finn (who'll be debuting "all new material" when he works Lincoln Center's Allen Room for the American Songbook series Jan. 13), Edward Hibbert, Ronnie Nelson and, breathlessly arriving from Other Desert Cities down the block, Judith Light ("We came down at 5:30, I tore off my wig, I escaped down the alley and our company manager had a seat waiting for me right at the back on the aisle").

Hurry! It's Lovely at the Clear Day Opening With Harry Connick, Jr., David Turner and Michael Mayer


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