I’m glad, in retrospect, that I knew nothing about On a Clear Day You Can See Forever before I headed to the Union Theater on Wednesday – I just hoped that with lyrics by Lerner and production values by Sasha Regan that I’d be having another lovely evening of golden/silver age musicals in the exquisite confines of my favorite tiny theater in London. And, well, so it was: but if I’d looked up the story beforehand, I might have been scared off! Whether you say it’s about psychoanalysis or about ESP or about past lives … well, any one of these things would have had me reconsidering my plans. A play where someone spends a lot of time with a shrink? Shoot me. A show about reincarnation? Couldn’t live through it.
But thanks, I think, to the utterly charming and completely non-ironic performance of Vicki Lee Taylor (as Daisy Gamble), rather that grumbling about how outrageous, silly, or (worst of all) boring this show was, I found myself relaxing into an utterly lovely and pleasant evening about truly surprising topics – absolutely original in all of the musical theater I had seen. Daisy Gamble is at a teaching psychologist’s office during a lesson and inadvertently is hypnotized. While recovering from her mishap, she winds up demonstrating other skills she has to Dr Bruckner (Nadeem Crowe) – such as an ability to read minds and, as demonstrated by the utterly gorgeous song, “Hurry, It’s Lovely Up Here,” a talent at making plants grow. I had been sitting there feeling a bit confused by the hip 60s setting (miniskirts galore) and the way the band (sitting behind me) were kind of drowning out some of the lyrics and dialogue, but once Taylor started singing, I was sunk. (It helped a little bit that she reminded me of Umbrellas of Cherbourg-era Catherine Deneuve.) It was like discovering you were on a journey to an unknown destination with a driver whose tastes you had utter faith in. I was very excited to see where Burton Lane and Mr. Lerner were going to take us.
Although the middle of this show is a very bizarre trip to woo woo land, I had no difficulty in swallowing it hook, line and sinker: as a bonus, Daisy actually has a very neat personal evolution that takes her from a difficult to believe, two dimensional character to a much better rounded person by the end of the show – you really do wind up rooting for her. And Dr Bruckner, well, he’s a bit of an odd duck, but his passion for understanding the mysteries he’s confronted with – and his willingness to accept Daisy without trying to put her in an easily-labeled box – makes him sympathetic as well. Really, On A Clear Day is such a curious thing, but it’s so lovely to watch: and sitting there at the end, five feet away from Taylor as she (and the rest of the talented cast) belted their hearts out – well, it was that kind of Union Theater magic that keeps me coming back show after show. In this case, it might have me coming back just a little bit sooner, because Taylor’s voice was just too good to be believed – playing to a house of, what, forty or fifty people, unmiked – what a treat!
(This review was for a performance that took place on Wednesday, September 11, 2013. It continues through Saturday, September 28th.)