It was 15 years ago, while helming Side Man at Vassar College's New York Stage and Film, that Michael Mayer had a revelation about On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane's 1965 Broadway musical starring Barbara Harris.
"I loved the original cast album since I was a kid, but I knew that the show wasn't successful and that the book was extremely problematic," recalls the Tony Award-winning director, whose Broadway credits include American Idiot and Spring Awakening. "As I was walking across campus with the songs in my head, I thought, 'This show just needs someone to come up with a great idea about how to do it right.' In that moment, I pictured a boy singing 'Hurry, It's Lovely Up Here' and I knew I was onto something."
Reading Lerner's original Broadway libretto, Mayer reacquainted himself with the story of Daisy, a kooky gal with ESP whose psychiatrist becomes enamored with her past life as an 18th-century Englishwoman. Irked by "uninvestigated characters, incomprehensible back-stories and unsatisfying resolutions," Mayer found particular fault with the musical's lack of a dynamic romance. "There was no real problem, no real tension, no real dramatic spark," he says. "I realized how to tell basically the same story that Lerner tried to tell, but in a way that felt fresh and gave everyone onstage a serious obstacle."
|photo by Palma Kolansky|
With a new book by playwright Peter Parnell (QED), Mayer's reconceived version replaces Daisy and her paranormal abilities with David (David Turner), a gay florist whose psychiatrist, widower Dr. Mark Bruckner (Harry Connick, Jr.), discovers that David's previous life was Melinda (Jessie Mueller), a 1940s jazz singer. "David falls in love with Mark, a man who's unavailable because he's heterosexual," Mayer says. "Mark falls in love with Melinda, but he can't have her because, well, she's dead. Now that's a love triangle."
Just don't call it a "gay twist." "It's easy to label this On a Queer Day, but that's so reductive, and it actually bugs the hell out of me," Mayer fumes. "A gay character doesn't make it a gay twist. I take the work seriously, and my collaborators and I are trying to do something real here. It's not some gimmick."
Mayer has never viewed his bold revamp as risky, even now as traditionalists criticize the creative team behind the Broadway-bound revival of The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess for overhauling the classic opera. "Did I worry about tampering with something that never worked in the first place? No, I didn't have any anxiety about that," he says with a chuckle. "My only concern was maintaining the integrity of the original idea and creating an exciting, romantic and entertaining platform for the spectacular songs. Since the first time somebody set a Shakespeare play in a period other than 16th-century England, other people's work has been reinterpreted."
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