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On a Clear Day You Can See Forever

At the Colonial through October 9

By Daniel J. Singal

It takes no ESP to predict that On a Clear Day You Can See Forever will be a solid smash on Broadway, yet also predictably the show will not set off the seismographic tremors that Alan Lerner has created in the past. Mr. Lerner has chosen to collaborate with the veteran composer Burton Lane, whose brilliant score for Finian's Rainbow of 1947 greatly influenced subsequent musical. The combination of two expect giants leads one to expect the ultimate, and the attempt to floor the audience certainly becomes obvious. But the show unhappily remains more an entertainment than an experience.

The plot is an updated modification of My Fair Lady. For a flower girl Lerner substitutes a girl who grows flowers. While Doolittle went to a bachelor linguist to have her accent repaired, Daisy Gamble goes to a bachelor psychiatrist to cure her "hallucinations." Daisy suffers from extrasensory perception (ESP), which means that she answers telephones before they have a chance to ring. An imaginative situation for a musical to be sure, but so far we are still in New York City, and everyone knows an Alan Lerner show must somehow trudge back to historical England.

Sure enough, Daisy turns out to be the reincarnation of one Melinda Moncrief, the daughter of an 18th century parvenu. Soon we have flashed back to the world of manor houses and wide green lawns, and the gayness which ensues virtually welcomes Mr. Lerner back to his element. Meanwhile Mark, the dashing young shrink, falls in love with Daisy as Melinda (the girl has changed her accent, remember?). Daisy discovers that Mark has fallen for her 18th century model and runs away in tears of frustration. Mark catches her at the airport where she miraculously reintegrates the various centuries of her personality. Thus elegant professional man transforms pretty girl from lower to upper class. We've grown accustomed to the plot.

Burton Lane's songs are lighthearted and lyrical, very much in keeping with the strange whimsy of this show. The title song gets caught in Louis Jourdan's throat and could profitably be eliminated, but the ballad "Melinda" lingers nicely. Once back in the days of yore, the Rabelasian dance numbers capture the theatre, due partly to the clever choreography of Herbert Ross. The sequence by the Publick Trysting Place, in particular, almost explodes with action. There can be little wonder that it should, however, for the budget of this show easily permitted the choreographer a fine stable of nimble legs.

Barbara Harris as Daisy Gamble should become the sensation of the year on the New York stage. Miss Harris surpasses all the requirements of a musical comedy star and beyond that she can act. Her role requires her to shift continually from the aristocratic Melinda to Daisy, the goil from New Joisey. She overdoes neither, but rather projects two separate characters whose differences extend far beyond their dialects. While she plays Daisy, she prances about so wild-eyed that you would concede her mind capable of anything.

However, one might well wonder why Louis Jourdan was ever cast as the leading man. Alan Lerner writes for protaganists who are mild-mannered yet tough, such as Rex Harrison or Richard Burton. Jourdan never goes beyond politeness, and hence he is penalized by being left blacked out at the side of the stage like some naughty hockey player while the English revelries are taking place. While passable on the romantic numbers, his voice lacks both the power required for the showstoppers and the philosophic tone needed for others. Worst of all, his explanations of psychoanalytic theory find him more confused than Daisy.

Someone also imported Titos Vandis, a fine Greek actor, to do a song and dance routine. Although his brief appearance might be enjoyable, this is not the Ed Sullivan show. Equally gratuitous are several characters used during the historical flashback scenes which, as a result, become overly involved and confusing. Hopefully some of the latter will be cut before Broadway, but then Mr. Lerner has a strange penchant for the period.

The deepest fault of Clear Day, however, remains the lack of integration. The concept of an analyst in love with his patient's ESP predecessor, however far-out it might sound, does lend itself to dramatic treatment. But Lerner has tossed in an assortment of potshots, such as the constant jibes at Freud or at the organization man, typified by Daisy's slick boyfriend. These humorous tidbits bear no relation to the main line of the play, and one suspects that bringing in Mort Sahl for a few ten minute interludes would be far more effective. The songs which occur during these offshots suffer also from dramatic anemia.

The lighting of the show, significantly, is done almost entirely with spotlights as opposed to natural stage lighting. The bright circles lend the air of a variety show and never permit the audience the illusion that they are watching a well-constructed play.

There were no unrelated scenes in My Fair Lady, which succeeded precisely because every minor element contributed to the final effect. Mr. Lerner, however, seems more intent upon raking in the cash than pruning the script of Clear Day, and only the latter activity is truly required.

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