Add ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER to the list of original cast albums
that makes a listener say “How could a musical with a score as rich and varied as
this ever fail?”
(Well, the book, of course …)
We’re reminded of the problems in the new production at Irish Repertory
Theatre. Charlotte Moore, the troupe’s artistic director, is the latest to try to
improve Alan Jay Lerner’s original 1965 libretto.
Once again, Daisy Gamble asks Dr. Mark Bruckner to do something — anything —
to keep her from smoking. In the original, her boyfriend Warren insisted that she
cease lighting up in order to come across as The Perfect Woman for his stern
and exacting employer.
Moore now has Daisy wanting to do it for herself. Although she’s retained a
character named Warren, he’s not her beau but simply part of the ensemble.
Warren originally sang “Wait Till We’re Sixty-Five” about the many benefits his
company will offer at retirement. It was meant to make him seem silly for being
so concerned with his far-away senior citizenship. (Now that fifty-three years
have passed, he doesn’t seem as ridiculous, does he?)
Moore keeps the song but makes it a chorus number in which Warren is merely
one of four participants. It comes out of nowhere, but having it there is nice, for
it’s an appealing jazz waltz. (Mabel Mercer even recorded it, albeit at a slower
pace.) On the album it’s sung by William Daniels, who four years hence would
have his career-making role as John Adams in 1776.
As a result of Moore’s demoting Warren, the verse of “On the S.S. Bernard Cohn”
had to go, for it had Daisy’s friends ask her “You were with someone else but
Warren?! Was he bashful or was he foreign?”after she mentioned her trip to
Staten Island with Mark.
A side note: Lerner had to be happy that he finally found a rhyme for “foreign.”
How he must have agonized nine years earlier when in his masterpiece – MY
FAIR LADY, of course – the best he could do was “Her English is too good, he
said, which clearly indicates that she is foreign. While others are instructed in
their native language, English people aren’.”
Before all this, though, Bruckner hypnotizes the workaday and naïve Daisy and
finds buried inside the glamorous and sophisticated
Melinda Welles from 18 century England. He falls in love with her, not Daisy.
Lerner had Daisy discover this from just happening to jar a tape recorder on
Mark’s desk. Miraculously — too miraculously, in fact — the tape was at the
precise spot where Daisy learned about Melinda. Moore has found no way to
solve that unconvincing move.
Maybe no one will care much, for it spurs Melissa Errico here — and Barbara
Harris on the original cast album — to sing a torch song that has plenty of heat:
“What Did I Have That I Don’t Have?” It’s Daisy’s lament that the 18 th century
version of her is superior. Among its many wondrous Lerner lyrics is “What would
I give if my old know-how still knew how?”
Stephen Bogardus is marvelous as Mark, following in the solid tradition set by
John Cullum who succeeded Louis Jourdan during the Boston tryout. Take it
from one who saw Jourdan, he was very ill-at-ease on stage and seemed only at
home when singing one lyric in his plea to Daisy to return.
The song is “Come Back to Me,” and the moment in which Jourdan scored was in
the Gallic-tinged lyric “Mademoiselle, where in hell can you be?”
Alas, we’ll never believe that Mark really loves Daisy; he just wants her to get to
Melinda. To stack the deck, Lerner made Daisy a flibbertigibbet; Mark
complained that she said “y’know” all the time. Moore has wisely soft-pedaled
that; still, Melinda’s the one for Mark.
For all Lerner’s insistence that Daisy’s I.Q. is N.G., he belied in it one of the
greatest charm songs of all time: “Hurry! It’s Lovely Up Here!” in which Daisy
sings to her flowers in order to make them flourish: “Hey, buds below; up is
where to grow; up with which below can’t compare with.”
“With which”!? A preposition in front of a pronoun?! This is no dummy. In fact,
Moore has Bruckner interrupt the song and repeat “With which?!” in
astonishment of Daisy’s lofty grammar.
Is someone not-that-bright capable of these rhymes? “Hey, rhododend! Courage,
little friend. Ev’rything’ll end rhododandy … Climb up, geranium; it can’t be fun
subterran-ium … R.S.V.P peonies, pollinate the breeze … Push up azalea, don’t
be a failure!”
(Moore has dropped that last one in favor of the one that Lerner rewrote for the
film: “Come give at least a preview of Easter.” Both aren’t quite perfect rhymes
unless Daisy comes from Boston.)
Whatever the case, Bruckner, after hearing Daisy’s adorable perceptions, should
be intrigued by this unique and creative creature. Melinda has no song as witty
as that one.
In fact, in the original production Melinda had only one song: “Tosy and Cosh”
which told of her requirements for a husband. At Irish Rep, she’s even been
stripped of that, which is a shame, for it’s one of composer Burton Lane’s most
accomplished pieces; it sounds very much like one of those 18 th century melodies
that was played on a lute as lovely ladies and kind gentlemen entered the royal
court. At least Moore retained it as background music.
But on the original cast album, you’ll notice that “Tosy and Cosh” does advance
the action in a way that few show songs do: Melinda starts it, but Daisy finishes
it as she comes out of her trance.
In the original stage show, Edward Montcrief, an 18th century portrait artist
ostensibly in love with Melinda, sang “She Wasn’t You” when comparing a recent
inamorata. In the 1970 film, Barbra Streisand’s Melinda sang “HE Wasn’t You”
about a recent lover. Moore chose to use both, which doesn’t turn out to be too
much of a good thing, for this is a real bolt-of-lightning ballad.
The original cast album only offers eleven songs. Moore has added a few that
either didn’t make the disc or were lost in Boston while dropping two that are on
the recording: “Don’t Tamper with My Sister,” which Edward demanded and
“When I’m Being Born Again,” which came as a result of Themistocles Kriakos
(read: Aristotle Onassis) hearing that Mark has discovered some information on
reincarnation and he wants in. It led to what had become a then-popular Greek
dance known as the sirtaki, which was made famous in the then-recent film
ZORBA THE GREEK (which would soon be musicalized, too).
The show is most famous for its title song, mostly thanks to Robert Goulet’s
superb cover. That it’s a splendid song isn’t the only reason that the crisp-voiced
singer chose to record the ballad; his company — “RoGo Productions” (get it?) –
was an above-the-title producer of the show.
After the 1965-66 Tony committee met, they didn’t tab ON A CLEAR DAY YOU
CAN SEE FOREVER as one of their four Best Musical nominees; the voters even judged the lower-rent SKYSCRAPER as superior. Time has been kinder to the Lerner-Lane show; it got that aforementioned film and a splashy (albeit heavily rewritten) 2011 Broadway revival. SKYSCRAPER has never achieved either honor. (No, that new movie by the same name has NOTHING to do with the musical,
which will be apparent to you if you see even the trailer.)
Grammy voters, however, appreciated the show. In the eight-year history of an
award being given to a cast album, ON A CLEAR DAY was the first to ever win
the Grammy without having been nominated for the Best Musical Tony. So never
mind the book; savor the score.
Peter Filichia also writes a column each Monday at www.broadwayselect.com
and each Friday at www.mtishows.com. His book The Great Parade: Broadway’s
Astonishing, Never-To-Be Forgotten 1963-1964 Season is now available at