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Michael Mayer -- the visionary Tony-winning director of the Broadway hit Spring Awakening -- had always loved the original cast album of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. Still, creatively he was haunted by the fact that the 1965 musical’s story came up lacking in terms of back-story clarity and romantic electricity.
His belief that the original script had “no real tension, no real dramatic spark” was challenged outright one day about 10 years ago as he walked across the Vassar College campus while rehearsing another show and experienced an epiphany: Why not turn the lead female character, Daisy Gamble, into a male -- David Gamble?
“I pictured a boy singing, ‘Hurry! It’s Lovely Up Here,’” says Mayer, “and I knew I was onto something.”
In the original, with music by Burton Lane and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, Daisy was a young woman seeking a psychiatrist’s help for her smoking habit. Under hypnosis by Dr. Mark Bruckner, she revealed a life as an 18th-century British woman named Melinda Wells. Bruckner believed Daisy was Melinda reincarnated, and fell for her.
In Mayer’s re-imagining, Bruckner’s (Harry Connick, Jr.) patient is a florist’s assistant (David Turner) who also wants to quit smoking, but this time so he can move in with his boyfriend, Warren (Drew Gehling).
The gender and era twists evolve when, once hypnotized, David reveals a past life as Melinda, reconceived as a 1940s jazz singer played by Broadway newcomer Jessie Mueller. And therein lies the core love story, leaving Bruckner once again smitten with a beautiful phantasm “from another time and place.”
According to Mayer, landing Connick -- the Grammy Award-winning musician who was nominated for a Tony for his role in the 2006 revival of The Pajama Game -- not only cinched the trajectory for the new Clear Day, but also why the revamped role of Bruckner (which, in the earlier version, was secondary to that of the actress playing Daisy) has been elevated to a far more central presence. “When you have Harry Connick, Jr. playing Mark, you go to Broadway,” Mayer notes. “It’s as simple as that.”
Clearly, Daisy’s transformation to David (and David’s to Melinda) in the current script marks a groundbreaking metamorphosis of the thematic kind.
The shift, admits Mayer, “was the most shocking to the executors and estates. But they were as interested as I was in finding a way to breathe new life into the musical. My main thought was, ‘What can we do to make this story crackle?’”
With a new book by Peter Parnell, Mayer’s unprecedented take on the Lerner-Lane musical now includes not only songs from the 1970 film version starring Barbra Streisand and Yves Montand, but songs lifted from Lerner and Lane’s score for the classic Fred Astaire movie, Royal Wedding.
“Having set our story in the 1970s, we meet Melinda in the ’40s, during the war, which is a beautiful fit for those Royal Wedding songs,” he says.
Mayer, whose resume is packed with such major Broadway triumphs as Thoroughly Modern Millie, A View from the Bridge, and Green Day’s American Idiot, concludes: “People will learn everything they need to know when they come see the show, but it’s important to remember that it’s more than a revival. In my mind, it’s a reincarnation.”
On a Clear Day You Can See Forever is playing at the St. James Theatre, 246 W. 44th St. For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or click here.
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