Theatre Review: On A Clear Day You Can See Forever (Seymour Centre, Sydney) ★★★★

It’s hard enough to get a good man to fall in love with you, but worse to discover that the “other woman” vying for his attention… is you!

A new, updated version of Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane’s 1960s musical On A Clear Day You Can See Forever has premiered in Sydney and it is a masterclass on how to bring a dated and problematic classic into the modern age without subtracting its nostalgic soul. Welcome to a new, empowering, queer musical with the sweetness of a classic.

David Gamble (Jay James-Moody), nicknamed Daisy for his way with plants, wants to quit smoking and is particularly susceptible to hypnosis. So when recently widowed, and very handsome, Dr Mark Bruckner (Blake Bowden) starts regression therapy with him, he’s shocked to unearth David’s past life as Melinda Wells (Madeleine Jones), a rich English woman who died tragically in her 20s, more than a century ago. Is it real, or is it a scam? And is Dr Bruckner falling in love with Melinda or David, or just maybe, with both of them? 

Jay James-Moody and Company in On A Clear Day You Can See Forever. Photo credit: David Hooley.

Director and star James-Moody has attacked the story with a clarity of vision that other revivals would do well to emulate. If you’re familiar with any of the three previous stage versions, or Vincente Minnelli’s 1970 film adaptation starring Barbra Streisand, you’ll find the heart and tunes in place, but significant changes along the way. James-Moody has cherry-picked various songs from across the production’s history while adding modern wrinkles to the plot and placing it in a more or less contemporary setting with modern day sensibilities. 

Gender swapping the original Daisy to David (as the 2011 Broadway revival did) adds a queer reading on multiple levels. David is now a gay man, with a dull fiancé who is constantly trying to turn David into a more heteronormative partner. His attraction to the handsome Dr Bruckner starts off as a harmless, unreciprocated crush, but gets more complicated as Bruckner falls for the persona of his past life, Melinda. David has two men in his life, but neither of them want him as he is. Meanwhile, Bruckner has to wrestle with the fact the person he’s falling in love with resides in the mind and body of someone he finds rather annoying. And Melinda, well she’s just having a great time flirting up a storm from the afterlife.

Jay James-Moody and Madeleine Jones in On A Clear Day You Can See Forever. Photo credit: David Hooley.

The gender flip corrects some of the sexist 1960s power dynamics of the original, but Bruckner’s gross malpractice is still evident (taking advantage of a patient while they’re hypnotized). This new version tries to tackle the issue with a light touch that works in the logic of a musical comedy, even if it wouldn’t hold up for a second in the real world. Would the audience be as forgiving if he didn’t have the face and voice of Blake Bowden? Probably not.

The strength of this production is in its specificities, and I don’t just mean the emotionally and logically consistent story changes. This is a sharp show, with lighting and music cues requiring expert timing from every department. The choreography is impressively precise throughout. The actors each have pitch perfect vocals and performances. James-Moody, Bowden , and Jones are a dynamite trio. My one real regret from the show is that there isn’t really a full-throated 11 o’clock number for them to let loose with. The lack of a standout, “wow” moment deprived the show of that final cherry on top I craved.

Madeleine Jones and Blake Bowden in On A Clear Day You Can See Forever. Photo: David Hooley

By layering in an authentic thread of gender confusion and attraction, and casting some of Sydney’s best performers, James-Moody has done more than breathe new life into On A Clear Day… he’s refined it into a charming exploration of gender, love and self-discovery. So get ready to go “cruising” on the S.S. Bernard Cohn and enjoy the ride!

By Chad Armstrong

On A Clear Day You Can See Forever is produced by Squabbalogic and plays at the Seymour Centre, Sydney until April 15th, 2023. Click here for tickets and more information.

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