A title that rings a bell for older musical theater buffs, but one that might not be familiar to anyone under a certain age. A score by songwriters whose better known shows keep getting revived and revived, but not this one. Songs that became hits even though the musical they came from did not. A book that, as they say, “needs work.”

It’s precisely for musicals like 1965’s On A Clear Day You Can See Forever that the “concert staged reading” was designed.

Despite some terrific songs by composer Burton Lane (Finnian’s Rainbow) and lyricist Alan Jay Lerner (My Fair Lady, Brigadoon, Gigi, Camelot), On A Clear Day You Can See Forever had a relatively scant 280-performance Broadway run, and while its score and its two lead performers, Barbara Harris and John Cullum, found themselves nominated for Tonys, the the musical itself did not. In other words, not a likely candidate for musical theater immortality.

Still, its title song got recorded by Robert Goulet, Johnny Mathis, and Barbra Streisand, “What Did I Have That I Don’t Have?” became a hit for Eydie Gormé, and “Hurry! It’s Lovely Up Here!,” “Melinda,” and “She Wasn’t You,” while less well known, are still just about as lovely as songs from a Broadway musical can get.

If On A Clear Day You Can See Forever didn’t make it on Broadway (or generate much heat at the box office when Streisand starred in its screen adaptation five years later), New York Times Theater Critic Ben Brantley probably explained it best when he wrote that “its book was strained and muddled, most critics agreed” and that “its big production numbers were simply cumbersome.”

All this adds up to a show that musical theater aficionados might have a hankering to see, but one unlikely to get picked as a Civic Light Opera season offering in the 2010s.

Fortunately for those who’d relish the chance to see and hear On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, Musical Theatre West’s Reiner Reading Series closed its second season with this largely forgotten cross between a chestnut and a gem, resulting in a thoroughly entertaining one-performance-only reading (despite that “strained and muddled” book), one directed with creativity and zip by the young and up-and-coming New York-based Spencer Liff and featuring two spectacular lead performances and a uniformly fine ensemble offering splendid support.

On A Clear Day You Can See Forever revolves around a quirky young New Yorker named Daisy Gamble (Kristen Lamoureux), who begins seeing psychiatrist Dr. Mark Bruckner (Damon Kirche) in an attempt to stop smoking, a nasty habit frowned on by her stuffy fiancé Warren (Zachary Ford). When under hypnosis, she reveals herself to be the reincarnation of a sophisticated 18th Century Englishwoman named Melinda Wells, Dr. Mark finds himself falling for the woman Daisy used to be, even as her contemporary self fails to make the strings of his heart go zing.

Interestingly, the version licensed by Tams-Witmark differs quite a bit from the one that opened on Broadway on October 17, 1965, reflecting changes which occurred sometime between its Broadway premiere and the publication of its vocal score in 1967. A pair of flashback numbers (the eminently forgettable “Tosy And Cosh” and “Don’t Tamper With My Sister”) vanished along with Greek shipping magnate Themistocles Kriakos, whose big number “When I’m Being Born Again” now ends up being sung by a group of Mark’s students as “When I Come Around Again,” similarly themed but with different lyrics.

Despite this tweaking, On A Clear Day You Can See Forever is unlikely to make any musical theater lover’s “Most Loved” list, but that doesn’t mean that a concert staged reading (rehearsed in 25 hours and performed book-in-hand with as much blocking and choreography as the director deems necessary and feasible, minimal costumes, and only the suggestion of a set) isn’t well worth a look-see, particularly one as charmingly performed as yesterday’s was.

In a star-making performance, Lamoureux both dazzled and delighted as Daisy Gamble, and while some dialect coaching might have been handy for flashbacks to Daisy’s British past, in all other ways, Lamoureux aced her biggest performing assignment to date. Combining a statuesque prettiness with abundant comedic gifts and a Broadway-ready soprano belt of a voice, Lamoureux’s stellar work in A Clear Day You Can See Forever presages quite a career in years to come.

Opposite Lamoureux, Scenie-winning Musical Theater Star Of The Year Damon Kirsche made it two sensational Reiner Reading Series leads in a row, following this past May’s Bells Are Ringing with another star turn. Dashingly handsome in classic leading man fashion and with a voice to make even the most shriveled-up heart swoon, the ever so charming Kirsche made for a couldn’t-be-better Mark, and never more so than when singing some of A Clear Day You Can See Forever’s best songs—“Melinda,” “Come Back To Me,” and the title tune.

In what is virtually a two-star vehicle, Ford provided bang-up support as both Daisy’s fiancé Warren and Melinda’s philandering husband Edward, showing off his terrific tenor pipes in the gorgeous “She Wasn’t You” and the jaunty “Wait Till We’re Sixty Five,” opposite a Daisy less than thrilled to be imagining a future with fuddy-duddy Warren forty or some years hence.

Lerner’s revised book limits other cast members to relatively minor bits, roles filled on Broadway by a grand total of forty-three supporting actors and for the Reiner Reading Series by a mere eight of our best musical theater talents. (Talk about streamlining!) Allen Everman (James Preston, Hubert Insdale, B.C.A. official), Steven Hack (Samuel Welles, Dr. Conrad Fuller), Frankie Marrone (Sir Hubert Insdale, Student), Madison Mitchell (Sally, Student), Melissa Mitchell (Patty, Student), Debbie Prutsman (Mrs. Hatch, Mrs. Welles), Kirklyn Robinson (Muriel Bunson, Flora), and Danny Stiles (Millard Cross, The Family Solicitor) proved themselves consummate triple threats, executing multiple roles and an even greater number of present-to-past and past-to-present costume changes in addition to singing and dancing the bouncy “On the S.S. Bernard Cohn,” choreographed with pizzazz by Liff—and all of the above in a mere twenty-five hours of rehearsal.

Musical director par excellence Julie Lamoureux conducted the reading’s first-rate six-piece onstage orchestra, featuring Lamoureux (Kristen’s mom) on piano.

A Clear Day You Can See Forever was produced for the Reiner Reading Series by Michael Betts and David Lamoureux. Mary Ritenhour was production manager.

As with all Reiner Reading Series readings, A Clear Day You Can See Forever was a one-time-only event, hence a StageSceneLA review written almost entirely in past tense and all the more reason to subscribe to the Series’ upcoming third season, one which opens with the virtually unseen Leg Diamond in December, followed by 110 In The Shade, The Secret Garden, Kismet, and City Of Angels. This reviewer, for one, can’t wait to see what musical theater magic the Reiner Reading Series promises in 2012-13.

University Theatre, California State University, Long Beach.

–Steven Stanley
July 22, 2012

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