Musical chairs

  • by Richard Dodds
  • Wednesday May 11, 2016
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From top to bottom, Chris Morrell, Melissa O'Keefe,<br>and William Giammona find themselves in a strange <i>menage a trois</i><br> in a new version of <i>On a Clear Day You Can<br>See Forever</i> at NCTC. Photo: Lois Tema
From top to bottom, Chris Morrell, Melissa O'Keefe,
and William Giammona find themselves in a strange menage a trois
in a new version of On a Clear Day You Can
See Forever
at NCTC. Photo: Lois Tema

Three musicals each with a few quirks in their backstories arrive in quick succession in the coming week. Two are area premieres of musicals that had a hard go of it in their original New York runs and aren't often seen, while the third started modestly but has consistently picked up steam since its debut.

 

'Clear Day' with a twist

Probably the most curious of the lot is On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, beginning its run May 13 at New Conservatory Theatre Center. It's both a local premiere and not. The original version, first on Broadway in 1965, has been seen around these parts, but a 2011 incarnation with a radically new script and several added songs is making its debut. It's the brainchild of gay director Michael Mayer, whose successes with Spring Awakening and American Idiot gave him enough cache to find support for a reworking of the musical that added a pivotal gay angle.

While Mayer and his librettist Peter Parnell successfully lobbied the estates of lyricist-librettist Alan Jay Lerner and composer Burton Lane for this reincarnation of a musical about reincarnation, a pre-opening feature in The New York Times, the kind of story that usually has more puff than punch, almost read like an advance obituary, with Lerner's daughter, Lane's widow, and even star Harry Connick Jr. expressing reservations not long before the show was to open. It was indeed battered by the critics and closed after a few performances.

What obviously drew NCTC to the new version was its gay angle that turned the role of neurotic Daisy (played so memorably by Barbara Harris in 1965) into a neurotic gay man named David. Seeking out a psychiatrist's help, he develops a crush on his doctor, while the widowed doctor falls in love with the 1940s big-band singer who manifests herself whenever he puts the patient into a hypnotic trance. But the only way he can fulfill his heterosexual desires for Melinda is to hold close the gay man who can provide them.

NCTC Artistic Director Ed Decker is helming this final show in the theater's season. NCTC regular Will Giammona heads the cast as psychiatrist Dr. Mark Bruckner, with Chris Morrell as the patient David and Melissa O'Keefe as the chanteuse whose spirits have taken residence in David's psyche. Clear Day will run at NCTC through June 12. Tickets are available at (415) 861-8972 or go to nctcsf.org.

 

RaMond Thomas, Jocelyn Pickett, and Paul Grant Hovannes are among the celebrants in The Wild Party, opening at the Victoria Theatre. Photo: Erik Scanlon

'Party' invitation

Ray of Light Theatre has a particular, though not easily definable, taste in musical theater. Jerry Springer: The Opera, musical versions of the movies Carrie and Heathers, and a goth-rock take on the Lizzie Borden story have been in their repertoire. ROLT's latest production is The Wild Party, a musical seen in New York in 2000. But that isn't actually enough to identify the show, for there were two musical Wild Parties seen that year, a case of two teams unknowingly both creating adaptations of John Moncure March's book-length narrative poem published in 1928.

To be specific, it is songwriter Andrew Lippa's version that begins performances May 20 at the Victoria Theatre. The other Wild Party has songs by Michael John LaChiusa, and neither show could be called the commercial victor, for each failed to ignite the box office. But each version had its particular fans, with ROLT presumably falling in with the Lippa crowd.

What had sparked Lippa and LaChiusa to independently start work on March's tale of decadence in the silent movie era was a new printing of the work with illustrations by the Pulitzer Prize-winner Art Spiegelman. Because the text by then was in the public domain, there was no need to find out if anyone else had rights to adapt March's material (which, incidentally, was banned in Boston).

Jocelyn Pickett and Paul Grant Hovannes play lovers on the social fast track who decide to throw a party outdoing what any of their eclectic and flamboyant invitees have ever seen. Queenie and Burr's wild party becomes wilder than anyone expected. Violence, sexual betrayal, and disillusionment arise with the morning dawn. Jenn BeVard is directing the ROLT production, running through June 11. Go to rayoflighttheatre.com for more information.

 

Zak Resnick and Margo Seibert each tell with song the story of a failed marriage through an opposite trajectory in The Last Five Years at the Geary Theatre. Photo: Mario Elias

Crosscurrent romances

ACT's next production at the Geary Theatre is a musical that has been banging around for 15 years, but seems to be increasingly rising in stature. The Last Five Years had a short off-Broadway run in 2002, but fared better when it was revived there in 2013. There have been numerous regional productions, including a staged concert at ACT in 2015 with the NY revival cast Adam Kantor and Betsy Wolfe reprising their roles. ACT decided to go through with a full mounting of the two-character musical with a new cast that opens at the Geary on May 18.

Margo Seibert and Zak Resnick are now playing an aspiring actress and an ambitious writer whose relationship is traced through Jason Robert Brown's songs. What sets the structure apart are the dueling chronologies that have the character Cathy retracing the romance from its end to the beginning while Jamie takes up matters from the start, with the two characters only hitting chronological synchronicity when their trajectories cross on their wedding day.

Brown based the musical on his owned failed marriage, and one bit of offstage drama surrounding the show occurred when actress Theresa O'Neill threatened legal action because she felt the show was too close to the actual relationship. Brown made some changes, and legal threats were dropped. The musical was also filmed for a feature release in 2015 with Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan as its stars.

Director Michael Barresse, who made his first big splash as a featured dancer in the 1999 revival of Kiss Me, Kate, addressed the closeness that Brown has with the material. "I know there are a lot of autobiographical aspects, and it's informative to know Jason and to read the material through his eyes," Barresse said. "But I think it's also more about the integrity he has as a person and as a musician, and I feel an obligation to do that justice." For tickets call (415) 749-2228 or go to act-sf.org.