There won’t be any comparisons made here to the original production or the movie. Let them rest in peace.
This imaginative production, re-conceived and directed by Michael Mayer with a new book by Peter Parnell based on the original by Alan Jay Lerner who wrote the excellent, witty and memorable lyrics with music by Burton Lane, is daring in its conception and intentions, certainly controversial with its story line and remarkably entertaining with a score to die for brilliantly orchestrated by Doug Besterman.
Perhaps Broadway isn’t ready for a 1970’s gay, chain smoking florist, David Gamble (David Turner) who has major problems with cigarettes and committing to his handsome boyfriend Warren (an excellent Drew Gehling) hypnosis and reincarnation.
Trying to kick the habit and on the advice of his best girl friend/roommate Muriel (Sarah Stiles) David takes in a group therapy session with the sexy, calm-with-a-really-low-key-demeanor psychiatrist Dr. Mark Bruckner (Harry Connick, Jr.) and immediately falls under his hypnotic spell resulting in repeated visits whereupon his past life as a 1940’s Jazz singer, Melinda Wells (Jessie Mueller) bursts forth and a star is born. More of Jessie in a minute.
The Dr. who is recovering from the death of his beloved wife falls for Melinda in a lapse of professional etiquette. David falls for the Doctor. Who wouldn’t? Even the Doctor’s colleague Dr. Stein (Kerry O’Malley) is in love with him. All quite simple unless you are part of the “ménage a quatre.”
Whenever Connick sings those wonderful Lerner & Lane songs (some brought in from Royal Wedding) with his laid back Sinatra style in tact the audience is spellbound.
Pairing him with a compatible 1940’s stylist/Jazz nightclub singer is a smart move. And casting Jesse Mueller a stroke of genius. She truly has that “it” quality that will make her a star. Looking like a young Liza Minnelli with a gorgeous voice, a command of the stage, a naturalness and comic flair that mesmerizes, she makes the Melinda/David/Dr. Bruckner affair believable which comes to full fruition with “You’re All the World to Me” when the three dance together courtesy of sublime choreography by Joann M. Hunter.
David Turner has an innocent nebbish-y quality that is endearing. And we truly feel for him as he falls deeper in love questioning what has happened with his show stopping rendition of “What Did I Have That I Don’t Have.”
The set design by Christine Jones is a bit of an eyesore. Costumes by Catherine Zuber must be blamed on the 70’s and not her talent.
Take a chance on this radically different love story. Open your eyes as that beautiful number suggests. Revel in the sumptuousness of its score and enjoy the charm of Connick and witness the emergence of Broadway’s newest star – the best holiday gift of all – Jessie Mueller – who by the way would make a terrific Fanny Brice in Funny Girl.
www.onacleardaybroadway.com Photo: Paul Kolnick
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