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December 16, 2011

TT: (Still)born again

In today's Wall Street Journal drama column, I sound the alarm about On a Clear Day You Can See Forever and Lysistrata Jones. Here's an excerpt.

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In the rogues' gallery of problem musicals, "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever" ranks right next to "Candide" and "Merrily We Roll Along" at the very top of the list. The Burton Lane-Alan Jay Lerner score is so good that everyone who loves musical comedy dreams of seeing the show successfully revived, but Lerner's book is so bad that no one has ever figured out how to do it. Now Michael Mayer, the director of "American Idiot" and "Spring Awakening," has taken a costly shot at what most theater buffs have long thought impossible--and proved them right.

1.157808.jpgThe original "On a Clear Day" was the muddled story of Mark Bruckner, a Manhattan psychiatrist who hypnotizes a ditsy young client named Daisy and discovers that she appears to be the reincarnation of one Melinda Wells, an 18th-century society lady from London, with whom he thereupon falls in love. Daisy/Melinda was the star of the show--Barbara Harris played her on Broadway in 1965, Barbra Streisand in the even more confusing 1970 film version--and nobody got the girl(s). In the new "On a Clear Day," whose book, written by Peter Parnell, retains recognizable chunks of Lerner's 1965 script but has mostly been written from scratch, the shrink (Harry Connick, Jr.) is the star and his ditsy young client becomes a ditsy gay florist (David Turner) who appears to be the reincarnation of a beautiful swing-era big-band canary (Jessie Mueller).

Mr. Mayer is responsible for dreaming up this silly-sounding premise, and while I suppose it would be wrong to say that nobody in the world could ever have made it work onstage, he and Mr. Parnell have definitely failed to do the job....

Mr. Connick is, of course, a popular school-of-Sinatra swing balladeer who made a splash in the 2006 Broadway revival of "The Pajama Game." His acting skills, however, are strictly limited, and whoever thought he was up to playing a Jewish shrink ought to have his head examined, preferably with a blunt instrument....

Douglas Carter Beane's brand of flyweight camp is not to all tastes, but plenty of people flipped over "Xanadu," and those unpicky folk are more than welcome to revel in "Lysistrata Jones," in which Aristophanes' classic comedy is turned into a spoofy-woofy college musical about an inept basketball team whose players are galvanized into action when their girlfriends vow not to sleep with them until they win a game. In the ever-relevant words of Max Beerbohm, "For people who like that kind of thing, that is the kind of thing they like."

If you're that kind of person, be forewarned that Mr. Beane's book is vapid to the max and Lewis Flinn's score is as tuneful as a ringtone medley....

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Read the whole thing here.

Posted December 16, 2011 12:00 AM

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