About the author:
He plays a florist’s assistant on Broadway, but David Turner is a man of multiple talents in real life. In addition to his starring role as David Gamble in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Turner is an award-winning songwriter and an accomplished pianist and director who finds time to teach English as a second language. He also has a gift for writing comic essays, as he demonstrated in 2007 piece for Broadway.com on his experience as a go-go boy in The Ritz. This time, Turner kindly agreed to turn his satiric eye toward the reinvented musical in which he co-stars with Harry Connick Jr. and Jessie Mueller.
A lot of my fans, most of whom live in my mom’s house, have the same name as my mom and are my mom, often ask, “David, when will you write an essay like the one you wrote about your experience starring in Joe Mantello’s production of The Ritz at Studio 54?” One reason for the delay is that that essay, which was published in late 2007, seems to have hurt the economy. But it also improved the lives of generations of theatergoers (assuming they procreate annually) by teaching them how to make beds in gay bathhouses. So, on balance, and with the recession a thing of the past for those making over a billion dollars a year, I figured it was time to write again.
Furthermore, I was deeply moved that my words, which many find inspirational, seem to have helped director Joe Mantello work up the courage to pursue acting for the first time in his life. (If you saw The Normal Heart, you may remember Mr. Mantello in his Tony-nominated turn as Ned Weeks, a man who would not take off his hoodie no matter how badly Ed Koch wanted him to.) It's easy to say, in retrospect, that Joe did the right thing by dabbling in acting, but it cannot have been easy for him to leave the security of the job he's held since arriving here in New York from the North Carolina School of the Arts. That job (telling witches where to stand) is a good reminder to my younger readers that we all have to start somewhere.
Well, essay fan(s) of mine, your long wait is finally over. I have spent the past four years since playing the title role in The Ritz crafting this 700 word essay about what it is like to star in Michael Mayer’s reincarnation of Lerner and Lane’s 1965 musical, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. That works out to about two-and-a-half words a day. Taken together, these two-and-a-half words were, I think you’ll agree, completely worth the wait.
Let me start by explaining some of the revisions that took place in order to update this beloved but famously flawed classic. While the original Clear Day starred the great Barbara Harris, who was already well-established at the time she was cast, our version features a complete unknown in the leading role. A lot of people questioned the judgment of those involved with the production for taking such a huge risk on someone that nobody had ever heard of. Well, I am here to tell you that this Harry Connick Jr. fellow sings as though he’s been doing it all his life.
Now, I have always been the kind of person who champions the underdog. That’s just good character. So I am really glad to have the chance to talk about this amazing newcomer who I believe, with lessons, could become a major player in the music industry.
So great is my faith in Harry’s potential that I believe I am duty bound to nurture his raw talent. That’s why I have taken it upon myself to tell him the names of notes, what a scale is, and how to allow his voice to make something we call, in the business, vibrato. Vibrato is Italian for when your voice shakes but it’s pretty instead of nervous-sounding. (Yes, there are a lot of foreign words you must learn if you want to pursue a career in the theater. But do not be discouraged, dear reader; that’s de rigueur for any profession. To help you, I will try to use another foreign vocabulary word in the next paragraph.)
I went to Williams College, one of the most prostigious (sp?) colleges in the country. While there, I took a class in the History of Theater or, as the French would say, Theatre. So I know pretty much everything about what happened before I burst on the Broadway scene in 2001 as someone named Ensemble, who remained tragically mute throughout Tom Stoppard’s The Invention of Love. Therefore, I will now draw on my vast knowledge of theatre arcana in order to fill you in on the differences between the original Clear Day and the one currently running at the St. James Theatre.
You may have heard that there is some gay element to the story of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. This is true. In the original version, Barbara Harris played Daisy Gamble, a lesbian with ESP who was romantically pursued by our nation’s second president, John Adams, played (without vibrato) by William Daniels. Shrewdly, director Michael Mayer and book writer Peter Parnell realized this simply wouldn’t fly today.
While being gay and having ESP were considered perfectly normal in the 1960s, times have changed a lot. So, wisely, I think, Mayer and Parnell have dispensed with those elements of Alan Jay Lerner’s notoriously convoluted and gay-filled book. Now, instead of being a lesbian, Daisy is a heterosexual woman played by me, David Turner. While there were many doubting Thomases when it came to this approach, it is plainly more comfortable for today’s less liberal audiences to see two men kissing, knowing that one of them is playing a straight woman.
I don’t want to give too much away but, for those of you who don’t know the plot, I will tell you that when Daisy is hypnotized by a handsome psychiatrist, an amazing thing happens: a couch rotates.
Then, a 1940s chanteuse named Melinda Wells, also a heterosexual woman, appears and sings (with vibrato). This is when the audience is treated to the incredible vocal stylings of Broadway veteran Jessie Mueller (who first made a splash in The Golddiggers of 1933). There is little doubt that her great gifts as a musician, to say nothing of her sheer beauty, are the highlights of the show (though I have never actually seen her face because I am hiding behind the rotating couch).
Throw together a hot newcomer like this Harry Connick Jr. and the possibility of witnessing the bittersweet twilight years of a stalwart perennial like Jessie Mueller and you can see why you should run, not walk, to the St. James Theatre, if running were possible in Times Square.