Musical comes back from past life

  • by Richard Dodds
  • Wednesday May 25, 2016
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In the revised version of <i>On a Clear Day</i> at NCTC, Chris Morrell plays an insecure gay man who can't commit when his boyfriend (Kevin Singer, arms outstretched) invites him to move in, despite their friends                 support. Photo: Lois Tema
In the revised version of On a Clear Day at NCTC, Chris Morrell plays an insecure gay man who can't commit when his boyfriend (Kevin Singer, arms outstretched) invites him to move in, despite their friends support. Photo: Lois Tema

A nip and tuck is common enough when a musical is revived on Broadway; fixes for what didn't work, polishing off dated sensibilities, and streamlining for contemporary audiences. But On a Clear Day You Can See Forever got much more than a little lipo when it came back to Broadway in 2011. The extreme makeover added new blemishes as it tried to smooth out the old, and it hardly streamlined the 1965 show, but it definitely gives audiences more than a dusty revival of an always-flawed musical with a great score.

The new incarnation of a tale about reincarnation has found a welcome home at New Conservatory Theatre Center. That wasn't so in New York five years ago when critics and audiences were turned off, and even its own makers would come to agree that their production was ill-advised. No matter where and how it's done, the new version will displease traditionalists, who were happy enough with the original. But as rendered in director Ed Decker's bright production, there is considerable amusement to be had in the musical's revamped story that now includes a lot of gay-ification.

Many of the pleasures of the original production came in Barbara Harris' performance as the insecure, chain-smoking Daisy Gamble, whose previous incarnation as a free-spirited 18th-century woman is evoked by a psychiatrist through hypnosis. Now Daisy is the ditzily gay Davey, while his past self is still a woman named Melinda Wells who enchants the doctor. The therapist must court the hypnotized Davey to spend time with his beloved Melinda, which creeps out most everyone else including his colleagues, Davey's boyfriend, and eventually Davey himself, who rightly feels himself abused. But ethics are mostly a nuisance in Paul Parnell's light-hearted adaption of Alan Jay Lerner's original libretto.

Eras on both the front and back ends have changed, with the bland early 1960s giving way to a semi-psychedelic 70s for Davey's scenes, and the 1700s becoming the 1940s for Melinda's appearances. Whether it's Daisy or Davey, the role still remains the most enjoyable part of the tale, especially here because of the endearing Chris Morrell as the mightily light-in-his-loafers character. This is a comically astute performance of good cheer, and Morrell is best able to put across lyricist Lerner and composer Burton Lane's songs, especially in the introductory "Hurry! It's Lovely Up Here" that has Davey giddily talking to his flowers and Morrell highlighting Lerner's lyrics at their most clever.

As the widowed psychiatrist, William Giammona projects leading-man stolidity, and he musically connects with a forceful "Come Back to Me" toward the end of the show. Melissa O'Keefe is genuinely appealing as the back-in-time Melinda, now a big-band singer from the 1940s whose songs are mostly interpolated from the movie Royal Wedding. Among those adding flavor to the production are Audrey Baker as Davey's brash roommate, Kevin Singer as Davey's earnest boyfriend, Jessica Coker as a disapproving psychiatric colleague, and Christine Macomber in a series of sharply rendered older-lady roles.

Vocally, this production is seldom a cut above, though the four-piece band led by musical director Matthew Lee Cannon is solid enough, and there are some happy steps in Joyce Zaban's few-frills choreography. The sets by Kuo-Hao Lo and lighting by Christian V. Mejia are less polished than what we've come to expect at NCTC, and the 1970s Goodwill-inspired costumes by Wes Crain do the actors no favors.

But despite any deficiencies, this Clear Day manages to pull the audience over to its side. This is its first production since New York in 2011, and I'm pretty sure it's a lot more fun than what Broadway audiences experienced back then.


On a Clear Day You Can See Forever will run through June 12 at New Conservatory Theatre Center. Tickets are $30-$50. Call (415) 861-8972 or go to