(Jesse Green’s article appeared in The New York Times, 6/28; via Pam Green.)
Bizarre subjects are no deal breaker for musicals; think human meat pies and philosophical felines. But few shows have as bewildering a topic as “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever,” the 1965 jaw-dropper about ESP, telekinesis and past-life regression that’s a weird mix of laughably earnest woo-woo and chipper Broadway savvy.
For the savvy, we have the score to thank: a treasure trunk of standards with music by Burton Lane and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner. Songs like “Hurry, It’s Lovely Up Here,” “What Did I Have That I Don’t Have?” and “Come Back to Me” are so catchy and well constructed that, stripped of context, you’d have no idea they were originally attached to such strange ideas. (In the musical, “Hurry, It’s Lovely Up Here” is sung to a flowerpot.)
For the strange ideas, Lerner has to take the blame. It was he who, obsessed with the New Age fads flitting around the era, devised a story — about a love triangle among a psychiatrist, his patient and her former incarnation — that became, over the years, Broadway’s pity project: the Golden Age book most in need of rescuing.
My conclusion, based on the 1970 Barbra Streisand movie, the 2000 Encores concert starring Kristin Chenoweth, the complete rewriting of the show as a Harry Connick, Jr. vehicle in 2011 and the cute revisal that opened at the Irish Repertory Theater on Thursday, is: It can’t be fixed. The pleasures of “On a Clear Day” are so intertwined with its absurdities that no theatrical version can separate them. You have to enjoy it for what it is, or not.