Friday, May 27, 2016

"On a Clear Day You Can See Forever"

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever
Burton Lane (Music); Alan Jay Lerner (Lyrics); Peter Parnell (Book)
Based on the Original Book by Alan Jay Lerner

Chris Morrell, Melissa O'Keefe & William Giammona
Despite its title, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever is one musical that has had a stormy past.  The much-touted 1965 opening with music by Burton Lane (Finian’s Rainbow) and book/lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner (My Fair Lady, Camelot, Paint Your Wagon, Brigadoon) was not well received by critics and lasted only a few months before closing with no more productions for a number of years.  A 1970 film version with Barbra Streisand and new music fared no better and maybe even worse.  In 2011, yet another version with some music from the original, some from the movie, and some from Burton Lane’s film, Royal Wedding, opened on Broadway.  With a revised book that replaces the starring female patient seeking help from a therapist with a gay florist, it unfortunately was universally panned and lasted only 29 previews and 57 performances. 

But sometimes, this kind of flop can be just the show for a non-New York company to grab; put it on a smaller, more intimate stage; and thus find a way to clear the clouds and let the hidden gems shine in new light.  And that is just what New Conservatory Theatre is doing its best to do under the able direction of Founder and Artistic Director, Ed Decker.  The show is still a bit whacky in its plot, and few of the mash-up of songs from several sources is memorable beyond the title number itself.  But this Director has found the heart and humor in it all, has ensured the many scenes move quickly and seamlessly, and has cast actors who are certainly to a person gung-ho in making sure the audience has a good time with it all.

Set in 1973 at the peak of bell-bottoms, left-over hippy wear, and glo-colored shirts full flowers and frills, this new version of On a Clear Day involves the era’s new age ideas like hypnotism, reincarnation, telepathy, and therapist/patient transference and counter-transference.  A handsome, bearded therapist (Dr. Mark Bruckner), who is still mourning the loss of a wife who died three years earlier, now suddenly falls in love with a gay patient (David Gamble) when David becomes a she under hypnotic spell to cure his bad smoking habit.  The ‘she’ inside the gay ‘he’ is a star-rising, dance-band singer named Melinda who herself died thirty years ago.  And the rather nerdy, gay David is having his own issues with a pushy boyfriend (Warren) who wants them to tie the knot (which in 1973, means moving in together).  David instead begins to have new hope for a new boyfriend when his therapist seems to want to see him daily for hypnotic treatments (but we know the doctor really only wants to see the ‘she’ inside of ‘him’).  Now, is that quacky and convoluted enough for you?  (There are reasons why On a Clear Day has had a rough go the past fifty years.)

Chris Morrell as David with Assorted Friends
Chris Morrell brings much energy and enthusiasm as David, with a portrayal of a gay man that comes close at times to being a bit over the top as he lives up to an early ‘70s stereotype of “homosexuals.”  As a florist who talks to his flowers, the pun is not hidden as he sings a Streisand number from the film version, “Hurry! It’s Lovely Up Here.”  “Life is rosy if you are a posy” draws laughs as he gives the audience a very knowing look.  Mr. Morrell’s happy, hyper spirits translate into his singing, which mostly works except when he over-sings on occasion as he perhaps tries too hard to be Babs.  But his bubbliness is contagious, and audience response to him is genuine in its liking him and pulling for him.  He is especially fun to watch him in his hypnotic state as he increasingly enjoys the close contact his inner self (Melinda) is having with Dr. Mark, as witnessed in his quirky smiles and swish movements of his slim body as he sits on the sideline with closed eyes.

Melissa O'Keefe as Melinda & William Giammona as Mark
As Dr. Mark Bruckner, William Giammona sings with solid, attractive tones and an impressive mixture of sad and happy in “She Isn’t You.”  As the good doctor becomes lovesick over his patient’s inner personality, his eyes speak volumes of the puppy love that is growing within him.  Their full moon stares become more and more intense as he watches and pines after every move of the Melinda who emerges from the hypnotized David.  Mr. Giammona overall low keys his role just enough to enhance how cute he is as the love-seeking doctor.  He also performs his vocals without pushing too much, allowing him to sell numbers like “Open Your Eyes, Mark” and “When I’m Being Born Again” in a range and volume that fits the intimate stage.

Melissa O'Keefe as Melinda on Stage
By far, the vocal star of the production is Melissa O’Keefe as Melinda, the 1943 aspiring singer who emerges from David’s inner psyche and becomes the dream loveboat of Mark.  In numbers like “Open Your Eyes,” she sings with an ease, lightness, and low volume manner that causes one to lean in and pay attention.  “You’ll see how this momentary, ordinary night can seem more unreal than a dream,” she croons softly.  Then when a song does call for her to raise the roof a bit more, she does so with confidence and clarity and no hint of distortion, as in “Ev’ry Night at Seven” in which she declares, “Ev’ry time the same thing happens, I fall once again in love, but only with you.”  Even though these are songs she is singing on a 1943 stage, the watching Mark of course is sure the dream’s words are only for him.

The musical’s highlight is a trio between Mark, Melinda, and David when Director Ed Decker and Choreographer Jayne Zaban have collaborated with the actors in “You’re All the World to Me” to stage a three-way song and dance that brings down the house.  The doctor, his imagined love, and his hypnotized client (now on his feet in a dazed state) dance body-to-body, changing positions for all possible, coupled combinations.  As they each alternatively sing to each other lines like “You’re moonlight on a night in Capri and Cape Cod looking out at the sea,” the cleverness and humor of it all just gets better and better.

Kevin Singer (Warren) & William Giammona (Mark) Using Some Telepathy
Another outstanding vocalist whom I wished we had got to hear more is Jessica Coker, who plays Mark’s colleague, Sharone -- herself in love with the doctor but something totally lost on him.  David’s friend, Muriel (Audrey Baker), also brings delightful sung chords and personality and shines particularly in a duet with her BFF in “Go to Sleep.”  Kevin Singer is the boyfriend (Warren) being left behind because David is hoping the heterosexual doctor maybe is not.  He is a mixture of bossiness and persistence and is particularly funny when he joins Mark in telepathically trying to find David and to win him back as he and the doctor sing “Come Back to Me.”

An ensemble of 1970s types plays multiple parts and joins in a number of total chorus numbers, bringing solid sounding vocals.  When they join together in dance numbers, the choreography is executed well enough but is usually not that memorable in its design.  The one number that stands out is a series of 60s-70s dances the troupe does (like twist, mashed potato, jerk, frug, etc.) in “Wait ‘til We’re 65.”

Real stars in this show are the four-person band that plays with perfection onstage the entire show.  Under the direction of keyboardist, Matthew Lee Cannon, the ensemble takes this overall average score and makes it shine in sound.  Particular kudos must go to Hal Richards on wind instruments whose saxophone really knows how to jazz things up.

A lot of credit for the fun and frolic of the show is directly due to the costumes created by Wes Crain.  Those checks, fringes, florals, and other vintage flairs were the talk of intermission.  Noteworthy in creating the feel of the 1970s is Kuo-Hao Lo’s stage bordered in ever-changing colors of lights.

Reviving a failed, already forgotten musical is something 42nd Street Moon usually does in San Francisco; but this time, New Conservatory Theatre and Ed Decker have taken that risk; and overall, it pays off for an enjoyable evening.

Rating: 3 E

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever continues through June 12, 2016 on the Ed Decker Stage of The New Conservatory Theatre, 25 Van Ness Street, San Francisco.  Tickets are available at or by calling the box office at 415-861-8972.

Photos Credit:  Lois Tema

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