BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
A fairly successful 1965 Broadway musical that was later made into a Barbra Streisand flick, “On A Clear Day You Can See Forever” boasts a notably lovely score by composer Burton Lane and lyricist Alan Jay Lerner and a notoriously muddled story by Lerner involving ESP and reincarnation.
Reconceived by director Michael Mayer with a script by Peter Parnell, a semi-new version of “Clear Day” opened on Sunday at the St. James Theatre.
The only thing this dud proves is that some vintage musicals should be left well enough alone.
The story has been updated to 1974 and now centers more upon the figure of Mark, a psychiatrist rather glumly portrayed by Harry Connick, Jr.
The original’s winsome heroine, Daisy, now is the wimpy Davey (David Turner), a gay guy who consults Mark to cure his smoking habit. Under hypnosis, Davey summons up his former incarnation Melinda (Jessie Mueller), a jazzy band singer on the brink of 1940s stardom. A grieving widower, Mark becomes infatuated by Melinda, which leads him to all sorts of personal and professional troubles with Davey.
This new, gay-ish love triangle merely adds another complication to an already cumbersome story. Fortunately, augmented by a few tunes from the team’s “Royal Wedding,” the richly melodic Lerner and Lane score remains beguiling, although its effervescent charms cannot float the heavy-going book and a partly-miscast production.
Manfully crooning away in his Sinatra-on-steroids style, Connick seems uncomfortable with Mark’s ambivalent character. The weedy, reedy Turner simply isn’t much fun as Davey. A vivid newcomer from Chicago, Mueller is a genuine live wire as the peplum-and-pompadour sweetie Melinda, whose hot rendition of “Ev’ry Night at Seven” nearly stops the show – or would, if the show truly got started.
The director, who has done beautifully by musicals like “Spring Awakening” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” assembles here a production that tends to be more mechanical than magical in feeling. The first act finale (choreographed by Joann M. Hunter), in which Mark, Melinda and Davey dance together in first humorous and then swooning synchronization, comes closest to suggesting the bisexual allure that Mayer probably hoped to achieve.
The 1970s period inspires designer Christine Jones to deliver garish optical-art settings that cause eyesore while costume designer Catherine Zuber reproduces every ugly mode of the era. Couple those painful visuals with Kevin Adams’ glaring lighting and “Clear Day” is a musical best watched with your eyes closed.
“On A Clear Day You Can See Forever” continues at the St. James Theatre, 246 W. 44th St., New York. Call (212) 239-6200 or visit www.onacleardaybroadway.com.