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‘On a Clear Day You Can See Forever’ Theater Review: Even Barbra Streisand Couldn’t Make This Musical Work

The latest revival showcases Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner’s great score but doesn’t solve the problems of Lerner’s flawed book

Book writers just don’t get the credit they deserve. A great book allows us to accept a second-rate score. Think “Dear Evan Hansen.” But great scores cannot survive a deeply flawed book. Think “Merrily We Roll Along” or “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.” Scribes are forever thinking they can solve the book problems of both shows, and Charlotte Moore is just the latest to rewrite Alan Jay Lerner’s book for “On a Clear Day.” That revival, which she adapted and directed, opened Thursday at Off Broadway’s Irish Repertory Theatre.

Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner’s score remains lush and melodic, even with a string-heavy five-piece band. And it’s a treat to hear such talented Broadway veterans as Melissa Errico and John Cudia sing without the interference of amplification.

Unfortunately, both acts of this revival get off to a sloppy start, and Moore’s rewrites arguably create more problems than they solve. Not that she’s gone radical, like the most recent 2011 Broadway revival of “On a Clear Day,” starring Harry Connick Jr., where the telepathic Daisy Gamble was turned into the gay florist Dennis Gamble.

Daisy here is still Daisy (Melissa Errico), and she still seeks the help of Dr. Mark Bruckner (Stephen Bogardus) to cure her of nicotine addiction. But her reason for wanting to give up smoking, a fiancé named Warren Smith, has been eliminated. Gone, too, is the Greek shipping magnate Themistocles Kriakos, on board to fund research into reincarnation after Bruckner has fallen in love with Daisy’s previous self, the glamorous Melinda Welles of 18th-century England.

Lerner’s two supporting characters aren’t the kinds of roles that win actors a Tony, but having the chorus do their work muddles the story even more. (The Smith and Kriakos characters were also dropped in the embalmed 1970 film version, directed by Vincente Minnelli and starring Barbra Streisand.)

Moore’s pen has also eliminated some of Lerner’s wit. What does delight is Errico’s interpretation of Daisy as a Lower East Side yenta, and her segues to the classy Melinda are seamless. And once she’s back in the 18th century, the fun only grows when Errico lands in the arms of Cudia’s Edward Moncrief, who gives a sly impersonation of a male model on the cover of a romance novel.

As the doctor-hypnotist, Stephen Bogardus is dedicated to the cause and earnest to the point of turning himself into a male Daisy. Frankly, his complaints that she’s a dullard evoke the old adage about tea pots and kettles. Bogardus’ overwrought approach does ultimately turn “Come Back to Me” into a comic gem. When the telepathic Daisy comes back to him, on hands and knees, you feel her head aching.