On a Clear Day You Can See Forever [Union Theatre]

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever
Music by Burton Lane, book & lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, loosely based on John L. Balderston’s 1927 play Berkeley Square, itself loosely based on Henry James’s incomplete novel A Sense of the Past

Daisy Gamble / Melinda Wells – Vicki Lee Taylor
Dr Mark Bruckner – Nadeem Crowe
Edward Moncrieff – Matt Beveridge
Warren Smith – Howard Jenkins
James Preston / Solicitor – Felix Mosse
Dr Conrad Fuller – David McKechnie
Mrs Hatch / Melinda’s Mother – Rachel Spurrell
Muriel Bunson – Emma Harrold
Patty / Flora – Laura Robson
Sally – Rebecca Lawrence
Mr Wells / Student – Dan O’Brien
Student – Ross McNeill

Inga Davis-Rutter (musical director & keyboards), Rosie Reed & Ruth Whybrow (reeds), Joe Evans & Nicky Caulfield (drums)

Kirk Jameson – Director
Sam Spencer-Lane – Choreographer
Charlie Morgan Jones – Lighting Designer

Reviewed by: Michael Darvell

Reviewed: 7 September, 2013
Venue: Union Theatre, London

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, at Union Theatre. Photograph: Kay Young PhotographyIn his programme note for On a Clear Day… director Kirk Jameson talks about reviving shows with a dubious reputation that larger houses generally ignore because the material is basically and at times fatally flawed. At the Union, Jameson has recently worked on Mary Rodgers & Marshall Barer’s Once Upon a Mattress and Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Pipe Dream, two rarities. Interesting as they were (historically speaking, that is) both shows were not entirely successful and both closed after fewer than 300 performances. However, the Union has built an audience for uncommon musicals.

Joining these two questionable revivals is On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Burton Lane & Alan Jay Lerner’s 1965 show about the regression of a woman with ESP. It initially clocked up only 280 performances and took 35 years to reach London in a production at the Bridewell Theatre, off Fleet Street. At the Tony Awards for 1966 the show was up against Man of La Mancha, Mame, and Sweet Charity. The show wasn’t nominated but the star, Barbara Harris, was, along with John Cullum and Lane’s score, although none won anything. It was, however, filmed by Vincente Minnelli in 1970 with Barbra Streisand playing Daisy Gamble, which was no great shakes either with the critics or at the box-office. You might have thought that Lane, with a CV that included the music for Finian’s Rainbow, and Royal Wedding, to which Lerner contributed the lyrics, would have had the magic touch. Similarly, Lerner who wrote lyrics for Brigadoon, Paint Your Wagon, My Fair Lady, Gigi, and Camelot, really couldn’t make Clear Day work successfully.

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, at Union Theatre. Photograph: Kay Young PhotographyIt took a long time to get to Broadway. In 1962, Richard Rodgers, having lost his writing partner Oscar Hammerstein II, teamed up with Lerner but as he was so slow at writing lyrics, Rodgers pulled out of the show which was called I Picked a Daisy. Lerner then asked Burton Lane to write the music and cast Louis Jourdan as the male lead, with Bob Fosse directing. But Lerner was still too slow. A third try was initiated, again with Lane and still with Jourdan. However, he couldn’t manage the singing and was replaced in Boston by Cullum who had understudied Richard Burton in Camelot. It finally opened on Broadway but failed to appeal.

The subject-matter was questionable and even at the Union Jameson has not found a way of lightening a rather tiresome plot. Initially Daisy Gamble seeks the advice of psychiatrist Mark Bruckner about giving up smoking in order to please her stuffed-shirt of a fiancé, Warren. When Mark hypnotises her she regresses to being Melinda Wells, an 18th-century woman in love with a painter who marries her but is then unfaithful. Touched by her story, Mark falls in love with Melinda. Meanwhile, Daisy, the re-embodiment of Melinda, is annoyed at Mark’s way of using her to get to Melinda. However, she eventually decides to leave boring Warren and return to Mark’s comfortable couch – at least that is what we assume is about to happen. The ending is unsure.

The production yields some winning performances from the leads and the company generally. Vicki Lee Taylor invests real personality in the role of Daisy, a bit scatty and bright, but not too bright, in the manner of, say, Shirley MacLaine, and brings a touch of seriousness to her alter ego Melinda. In the awkward part of Dr Bruckner, Nadeem Crowe manages to show viably both sides of Mark’s character. Howard Jenkins makes Warren Smith both dumb and doughty. The chorus executes some nifty footwork in Sam Spencer-Lane’s choreography and tries to coax the awkward story into life. It doesn’t always work and the plot at times gets bogged-down by detail.

Inga David-Rutter’s small combo plays Lane’s score with loving attention. The title song is the most well-known, but point numbers such as ‘Come back to me’, ‘Wait till we’re sixty-five’ and ‘Hurry, it’s lovely up here’ are handled with dexterity even if, in the context of the plot, they mean little. It’s not one of Lane or Lerner’s best efforts but worth reviving to see where such talented people can occasionally go wrong.

  • On a Clear Day You Can See Forever is at the Union Theatre, 204 Union Street, Southwark, London SE1 until Saturday 28 September 2013
  • Tuesday to Saturday at 7.30 p.m., matinees Saturday & Sunday at 2.30
  • Tickets 020 7261 9876
  • www.uniontheatre.biz

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