Review: ‘On a Clear Day You Can See Forever’ at New Conservatory Theatre Center

By Christine Okon

. . .  a story of yearning and connection, love and discovery, grief and healing, doubt and adventure, safety and mystery, joy and pain.

A delightful reincarnation of the psychic musical “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” is lighting up the New Conservatory Theatre stage with a fresh and bold 360-degree spin on relationships across time, space, gender, and love.

It asks questions that go way beyond the original 1965 Broadway production and 1973 film starring Barbra Streisand: Why can’t a struggling female jazz singer from 1943 come back as a struggling gay male florist in 1970s New York City? Is scientific inquiry the only valid door of perception? Can an already delightful play be enriched by adding songs from another production?

To all of it, YES!  Yes to this story of yearning and connection, love and discovery, grief and healing, doubt and adventure, safety and mystery, joy and pain. Yes to the hilarious comedic happenstance of mistaken identities, hopeful but false assumptions, and wild and exciting connections over time, space and circumstance. Yes to adding songs like “Open Your Eyes” from “Royal Wedding” to enrich the story.

It’s New York City in 1973, the decade in the contrails of ‘60s psychic and social upheaval. We meet David, a sweet but somewhat Nervous Nellie type who encourages the flowers in the shop to “Hurry Up” while he himself stays in the shy shadow of the florist shop owner who takes all the credit for David’s brilliant floral creations. David (endearingly played by Chris Morrell) seems easygoing, but he too wants to bloom somehow, somewhere. He is afraid to commit to Warren (Kevin Singer), a steady-at-the-wheel good guy who wants the two to live together. David lives his life according to “shoulds” and not “wants,” and he halfheartedly agrees to try to stop smoking for Warren’s sake.

David’s spunky and outspoken roommate Muriel (the ebullient Audrey Baker) invites him to go with her to a psychology class taught by the famous, accomplished and very handsome visiting psych prof Dr. Mark Bruckner (William Giammona) who projects a confident competence but whose beautiful brown eyes reveal a deeper grief over a wife who recently died. Giammona’s soulful rendition of “She Isn’t You” moves one to tears; in fact, he’s fantastic with every song he sings.

Dr. Bruckner’s classroom demonstration of hypnosis reveals that David is an easy subject who can quickly succumb to a deep sleep at the mere mention of “imagine an open window.” David pleads with the doctor to help him quit smoking through hypnosis, and when Bruckner reluctantly agrees, the wild ride begins.

We, soon learn that in a past life, 1943 to be exact, David was Melinda (a stellar Melissa O’Keefe), a lovely, upbeat, yet struggling jazz singer/waitress in wartime New York City. And, despite being a man of scientific inquiry, Dr. Bruckner falls in love with Melinda whom he can only access through sessions with David (of course).

The unlikely love triangle sets the framework for some very funny and moving scenes. It’s amusing to see Dr. Bruckner’s slow dancing with Melinda who is then sandwiched between him and the hypnotized David who sleepily stumbles into the reverie. Yet, we also sense the yearning of all three for their own hearts to be filled, and of course, “on the count of three” they are snapped back to reality and their respective present moments.

Everything about this production comes together joyfully and seamlessly. Working from the revised book that was the basis for the 2011 Broadway production with Harry Connick, director Ed Decker brings two whole worlds to a small stage. The set and lighting design is simple yet effective and versatile, connoting the 70s as easily as the 40’s. The costumes are spot on and fun, from the 1973 body-clinging rayon paisley shirts worn by David to the 1943 Big Band zoot suits. Kudos to the designers who added more dimension to the experience.

Especially wonderful is the live orchestra, with the keyboard, winds, percussion and bass musicians always visible and interacting with the main players, playing Big Band sounds as facilely as 70s groove.

Special applause for the wonderful ensemble cast, with even minor characters having complex personalities and circumstances, such as the efficient assistant Paula (Megan Bartlett) who is secretly in love with the doctor. Following the original and boisterous choreography of Jayne Zaban, the dancers, with their wild 70s colors and fabrics, are kaleidoscopic.

New Conservatory Theatre’s “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” is a joyous experience that brought the audience to its feet. It’s about how the heart reaches for joy as a flower reaches for the sun. The simple lesson is that if you open your eyes to the moment, you can see it all, you can see who you are, forever and ever, and ever…

“On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” plays at New Conservatory Theatre Center through June 12th.  For further information, click here.

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Rating: ****
(For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

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“On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.” Music: Burton Lane. Lyrics: Alan Jay Lerner. New Book by Peter Parnell, based on original by Alan Jay Lerner. Produced by New Conservatory Theatre Center.  Director: Ed Decker. Musical Direction: Matthew Lee Cannon. Choreography: Jayne Zaban. Sound Designer: James Ard. Costume Designer: Wes Crain. Lighting: Christian V Mejia.

Musicians:

Keyboards: Matthew Lee Cannon. Winds and Reeds: Hal Richards. Drums: Matt Schory. Bass: Wanda Wu.

Cast:

Mark Bruckner: William Giammona. David: Chris Morrell. Melinda: Melissa O’Keefe. Muriel: Audrey Baker. Warren: Kevin Singer. Ensemble: Scott Alexander Ayres, Christine Macomber, Pamela Sevilla. Paula: Megan Bartlett. Sharone: Jessica Coker. Alan: Stephen Kanaski. Hannah: Juliana Lustenader. Roger: Zac Schuman.

 

 

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