Sunday, January 15, 2012

Theatre Droppings: When Harry Met David

I have got to start resisting the temptation, when I'm visiting my New York Branch, to pop over to the TKTS booth in Times Square.  Even at half price, Broadway shows are just not in my budget, but that has not stopped me in the past few weeks.

Ignoring the advice of all the critics, I was very curious about the major remount/rethink/reconfiguration of the 60s musical, On A Clear Day You Can See Forever.

Barbara Harris and John Collum
couldn't save the original

I'd never seen a production of the stage show, nobody ever does it.  Despite having won a Tony nomination for star Barbara Harris back in the 60s, the show has never seen a major revival, and the movie version, the 3rd film in the triumvirate of stage-to-screen musicals which introduced Barbra Streisand to Hollywood, is not fondly remembered. 

Streisand wakes up the flowers,
but delivers a quirky snooze.

The score has some swell items, so clearly, there was book trouble here. With the blessing of the estates of the originators, substantial work was done on the show, to make it more appealing to a modern audience. I believe the changes are viable (I think most of the NY critics disagree), and I enjoyed the performances of all the supporting leads. The new writers reconfigured the story so that the role which Ms Harris and Ms Streisand played is now being played by David Turner, in an endearing and heartfelt performance as a gay man falling in love with his straight shrink (look for Turner's name when the Tony nominations come out).

As David Gamble, Turner creates a sweetly confused gay man with commitment issues.
His is a light, lyrical take on the score, and it's been said his vocal performance is weak, but he stops the show cold with his dramatically satisfying anthem, "What Did I Have That I Don't Have". 

David Turner and Drew Gehling

Drew Gehling, as boyfriend Warren (played in the film by straight-arrow Larry Blyden), has the best pipes in the show, and has been gifted with "Love With All The Trimmings," a song written for Streisand in the movie. I think the ultimate failure of this production, which is closing at the end of the month after a disappointing run, lies with its star. 

Harry Connick smiles in all the promo shots,
 but rarely cracks one onstage

Harry Connick, Jr., is playing the psychiatrist, and his participation has slanted the focus of the show; it now centers around his character's recovery from his wife's death.  The doctor, as in the original, falls in love with his patient's former life (it was always this 60s-style reincarnation stuff which tripped up the story).  In this case, "Melinda" has been updated to be a big band singer from the 40s.  This adjustment is rather an awkward one, but it allows the addition of other standards from the Lerner/Lane musical canon to be shoehorned into the show. 

In the original, Melinda was an 18th century aristocrat.
Here, she's a 1940s band singer.
Jessie Mueller, playing this alter-ego from the past, does a great job with this role, but her performance depends on a chemistry with the show's star.  Harry Connick is a crooner of the first order, but his star power has always had a low wattage for me, and this show reinforces my impression. 

Nobody wanted to see Connick fall for a man,
so Patient Gamble was split in two.
 This guy is no actor, but the redesigned script requires one, so, despite stellar performances from the actors surrounding him, Harry fails to deliver anything near a complete performance.