By Stanford Friedman
In 1965, Man of La Mancha was the hot musical in town. But, that year also offered up several quirky also-rans, including Do I Hear A Waltz?, Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd, and Lerner and Lane’s romantic comedy, On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, which is currently receiving an intimate revival at The Irish Repertory Theatre. Directed and newly adapted by Charlotte Moore, the production proceeds at a pace that is one gear less than energetic, but which allows for full appreciation of the show’s eccentricities. The work is a study in split personalities, combining a 1950’s style big-hearted romance with a 1960’s Mad Men interest in mind games, working women and cigarettes. Beyond the irrepressibly catchy title song, there are a handful of fun gems that only sometimes have anything to do with the plot, as well as a leaden love song or two that threaten to weigh down the action.
Alan Jay Lerner wrote the words to On A Clear Day nearly a decade after he wrote the words to My Fair Lady, but the two books share a weird DNA. Instead of Eliza, an uncouth flowerseller, we have Daisy (Melissa Errico), an uncouth flower who is trying to eke out a living in New York. And instead of Henry Higgins, a professor who tries to turn Eliza into a proper Edwardian Londoner while falling for her, we have Dr. Mark Bruckner (Stephen Bogardus), a hypnotist who tries to turn Daisy into a proper 18th century Londoner while falling for her. You see, young Daisy is not only a snap at being hypnotized, she also has ESP, which allows for a running gag involving answering telephones before they ring, and she has a past life, specifically that of Melinda Welles, a 1790’s British charmer who discards her fiancé for a passionate artist, Edward (John Cudia). Daisy is clearly of two minds; Mark takes forever before capturing her true heart.
The New York scenes are as wacky as the London time travel scenes are slow. Mr. Cudia’s straight-forward rendition of Edward is a snooze, as is his ballad, “She Wasn’t You,” which asks the musical question, “Why did champagne lose its year for me? Love’s haunting strain disappear for me?” But Daisy and an ensemble of her friends have a delightful number about a love boat (“S. S. Bernard Cohn”) as well as a bizarre and addictive ditty about the joys of collecting social security (“Wait Till We’re Sixty-five”). Ms. Errico is perhaps best known for her 1994 Broadway turn as Eliza in My Fair Lady (just saying). Her Daisy is full of flighty charm and she finds the proper chemistry with Mr. Bogardus. It would not be fair to say that he steals the show, since the show is essentially his to begin with. Daisy may flip, but Mark transforms. He also gets the best solos, including the title song. Yes, unlike the Barbra Streisand film version, Daisy has no turn with those particular high notes.
Standouts in the ensemble include two City Center Encores! veterans, the brassy Florrie Bagel, and Rachel Coloff doing some amusing physical comedy as Mark’s secretary, the stern Mrs. Hatch. Within the lovely but narrow confines of the Irish Rep’s newly refurbished home, the ensemble, at times, sing from the balcony stairs. However, they do fare better than the five-piece orchestra (including a harpist!) who are unceremoniously crammed into an upstage corner. Ryan Belock’s impressionistic, painterly projections of New York are pretty, but seem oddly French. Though, of course, this is an Irish Rep. production that has nothing to do with the Irish, so it’s all fair game, I suppose.
On A Clear Day You Can See Forever – Music by Burton Lane; Book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner. Directed and newly adapted by Charlotte Moore.
WITH: Florrie Bagel (Sally and Flora),William Bellamy (Hubert Hinsdale), Stephen Bogardus (Dr. Mark Bruckner), Rachel Coloff (Mrs. Hatch, Mrs Welles), Peyton Crim (Chairman Larim, Solicitor Trundle), John Cudia (Edward Moncrief), Melissa Errico (Daisy Gamble/Melinda Welles), Caitlin Gallogly (Janie Preston), Matt Gibson (Warren Smith), Daisy Hobbs (Muriel Benson) and Craig Waletzko (Conrad Fuller, Mr. Samuel Welles)
Music direction by John Bell, Choreography by Barry McNabb, Costume designer: Whitney Locher, Scenic designer: James Morgan, Lighting designer: Mary Jo Dondlinger, Sound designer: M. Florian Staab, Projection Designer: Ryan Belock, Stage Manager: Arthur Atkinson. Irish Rep Main Stage, 132 West 22nd St., 212.727.2737, https://irishrep.org. Through August 12. Running Time: 2 hours.