Was Daisy Gamble, the leading character of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, ever reincarnated as much as the Alan Jay Lerner-Burton Lane musical-comedy-operetta itself? In the show, about paranormal activity and past lives, Daisy’s seeming prior existence as a Regency beauty fascinates one Dr. Mark Bruckner, an analyst who believes in previous lives and ESP.
Praised in 1965 for a remarkably witty, lush score but castigated for a confused book, On a Clear Day keeps reappearing in altered forms. Lerner kept reworking it as it toured and did so again for the 1970 film version that starred a miscast Barbra Streisand and an unintelligible Yves Montand. Director Michael Mayer performed a sex change on it for a radically rewritten 2011 revival, turning Daisy into David Gamble, further muddling the narrative and making Harry Connick Jr. as Bruckner look mighty uncomfortable. Now, in another go by Irish Repertory Theatre, director-rewriter Charlotte Moore has returned in many respects to the original but made further revisions. She has solved a problem or two and created others.
Once again Daisy (Melissa Errico) is just an unambitious New Jersey miss who seeks help from Bruckner (Stephen Bogardus) to quit smoking and inadvertently reveals a past life as Melinda Welles, a bewitching Londoner who loved portrait painter Edward Moncrief (John Cudia) and died young in a shipwreck.
Two significant characters, however, are missing, and so are three significant songs. Melinda’s stuffy fiancé, Warren (Matt Gibson), is now just a platonic friend with a few lines. This does the plot major damage, weakening the conflict and throwing his character-defining number, “Wait Till We’re Sixty-Five,” to the chorus, which has no business singing it. And Kriakos, the Aristotle Onassis stand-in who funds Bruckner’s research, is gone entirely, costing us a song (“When I’m Being Born Again”) and some of Lerner’s better lines (“Did you see his yacht in the harbor last night? I thought it was Newark”).
Some of Moore’s revision is just clumsy. Bruckner to Daisy, 1965: “Melinda’s beautiful soul inside you? God, what a housing shortage!” 2018: “God, what a waste!” Lost its ping, didn’t it? On the other hand, she does a somewhat better job setting up Bruckner’s obsession with Melinda, and she speeds up the storytelling. One meditative song written for the film and chopped from the release print, “Who Is There Among Us Who Knows?”, is back in; it adds nothing.
Melissa Errico has a fine throaty belt that makes the most of “Hurry, It’s Lovely Up Here” and “What Did I Have That I Don’t Have?”, but it doesn’t altogether suit the meek, conformity-seeking Daisy. She overdoes the New York accent (Daisy’s from Mahwah, after all) and underdoes Melinda’s elegant British diphthongs, and, accents aside, these two utterly opposite women don’t seem all that different. And Bogardus, sounding reedy and lacking breath support, really might want to dial back on Bruckner’s mood swings—his “Come Back to Me” amounts to a temper tantrum.
Fortunately, Cudia is vocally up to “She Wasn’t You,” surely one of Broadway’s most romantic ballads ever. And John Bell’s music direction of Josh Clayton’s orchestrations, which are pretty elaborate for Off-Broadway, has plenty of flavor. A well-drilled chorus, as in 1965, gets to sing much of the overture, a lavish showcase for Lane’s sumptuous melodies. James Morgan’s sets are modest but colorfully supported by Ryan Belock’s whimsical New York City projections; Whitney Locher’s costumes, dominated by a pink-and-white horror for Daisy that no self-respecting 1960s woman would wear, feel uncertain in both eras.
The central problem with On a Clear Day’s libretto has always been the unconvincing contortions it has to twist itself into to arrive at a happy ending. It’s hard to buy Bruckner’s coming around to loving Daisy more than Melinda; the former is a mouse, the latter a goddess, so when Lerner concocts a late speech for him that assures Daisy she's the one for him, it doesn’t ring even half-true. That hasn’t been solved. And Moore’s adaptation, with absent characters and tampered-with punchlines and poorly engineered song cues, is not the answer. Nor is her busy direction, with characters gesticulating and throwing themselves on the floor a lot.
Will On a Clear Day ever work completely? Possibly not. Is it still fascinating, brimming with paranormal wonders and graced with an absolutely magnificent score? You bet.
On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, presented by Irish Repertory Theatre, plays through Aug. 12 at Irish Rep Theatre (132 W. 22nd St.). Evening performances are at 8 p.m. Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and 7 p.m. Thursdays; matinees are at 3 p.m. Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. For information and tickets, call (212) 727-2737 or visit irishrep.org.