New 'Clear Day' A Test For Harry Connick Jr.

Jan 1, 2012
Originally published on July 1, 2014 8:40 am

The new Broadway production of the musical On a Clear Day You Can See Forever has been billed as a "reincarnation" rather than a revival. The premise is the same as before: A psychiatrist, Mark Bruckner, falls in love with the "past life" of one of his hypnotized patients. But this version replaces Daisy, the charming young patient first played in the 1960s by Barbara Harris, with Davey — a gay man harboring a female alter ego deep in his subconscious.

The change-up presents a challenge for Harry Connick Jr., who plays the psychiatrist in the new production.

"It's the most complex character I've had to play. I'm playing an academic — that alone is a stretch for me," Connick says, laughing. "But he's this guy who's mourning the death of his wife and falls in love with a person who doesn't really exist. And he sort of spirals down into what essentially becomes a psychotic breakdown ... To have the audience even like me at the end of every show is a real challenge."

Rebecca Sheir, guest host for weekends on All Things Considered, speaks with Connick about preparing for the role — and how he responds to vicious reviews.

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Now, time for music. And how better to end the show looking toward the future than with a Broadway musical called "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever."


HARRY CONNICK JR.: (as Dr. Dr. Mark Bruckner) (Singing) On a clear day rise and look around you...

SHEIR: Those (unintelligible) belong to the star of the show, Harry Connick Jr. He plays the morally conflicted psychologist Mark Bruckner, whose life spins in unexpected directions after he meets a lot of special patients.

JR.: (as Dr. Dr. Mark Bruckner) (Singing) You can see you can see forever and ever more.

SHEIR: The original production of Burton Lane and Alan J. Lerner's musical debuted in 1965. And while reviewers back then weren't so kind, this time around, they've been especially savage, though some have had sweet things to say about Connick, like the fact that his singing voice sounds like caramel.

JR.: Well, it's nice - it's more like peanut butter right now.


SHEIR: All right. So Connick is feeling a wee bit under the weather when I spoke with him. But as I soon found out, the guy is a trouper. I asked him about the reviews, the role, and the fact that director Michael Mayer isn't calling this production a revival, so much is a reincarnation.

JR.: Yeah, it kind of is. I mean, the original concept was based around the female character, Daisy. I never saw the original stage production that Barbara has, but in the movie, it was played by Barbra Streisand. And it was an amazing performance. She had (unintelligible), she could hear phones ringing before the call came in.


BARBRA STREISAND: (as Daisy) Watch. (Unintelligible).

JR.: And she went to see this psychiatrist, and he hypnotizes her and discovers she has this former life.


STREISAND: (as Daisy) My name is Melinda. Melinda Winifred Wayne Tentrees.

JR.: This aristocratic woman in England from, you know, 100 years ago or so. And he falls in love with her, and the only way to get to her is to hypnotize this young Barbra Streisand, which was always a little confusing to me because she was so adorable and charming I couldn't figure out why he wanted this old fuddy-duddy, why didn't want to go after this woman with this great character, you know?


STREISAND: (as Daisy) I thought he kind of liked me. But all the time he was thinking of someone else.

SHEIR: So many changes from the original to the version we're seeing now on Broadway. The biggest change, arguably, is the fact that your character falls in love with the female past life of a male patient. In the original, the patient was a woman, and now, we have Daisy Gamble becoming Davey Gamble.

JR.: Davey, yes. And he's a young gay florist. And he wants to quit smoking, so he comes to see me. And I say, look, I don't really do hypnosis. He says, look, can you just try it? And he goes under very easily and becomes, at least in my mind, this woman named Melinda Wells, and I fell in love with her.

So when I pulled David out of the hypnosis, I want to see him again because I want to see Melinda again. And he thinks that I just want to see him again.

SHEIR: That's a rather bold experiment.

JR.: It is. But I think the fact that I'm a straight man and this gay man is the vessel in which Melinda goes through, I think that's - it's more suitable dramatically because it provides for this impossible love triangle. I'm in love with this woman. He thinks I'm in love with him. It just makes it more interesting dramatically. I mean, it just makes a lot more sense.

SHEIR: But I'd imagine that's got to be a lot more complicated for you as an actor approaching this role. You're interacting with one character that's actually another, and then the actress comes out, Jessie Mueller comes out when we want to see Melinda versus Davey. There must be more to it as you're approaching this character.

JR.: It's the most complex character I've had to play, only because I'm playing an academic. That alone is a stretch for me.


JR.: But, you know, what I'm doing to this guy, essentially, is using him like a crackhead would use a crack vial. I'm just abusing him and using him to get to this girl. And it's absolutely the most unethical means of practice you can imagine. My sister is a psychiatrist. And I asked her what would have happened to a patient in real life had a doctor treated the patient in this capacity. And she said, well, you're going to ruin them for the rest of his life.

So for me, to have the audience even like me at the end of the show is a real challenge. And so far, so good. I mean, so far, I think people seem to feel that redemption has occurred. But it's tough.

SHEIR: My guest is Harry Connick Jr. He plays the lead in a Broadway revival of the musical "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever." It features a really lush score with a number of classics by Lerner and Lane, some, I understand it, from the original musical, some were borrowed from real wedding. You've got "Come Back to Me," "She Wasn't You," which I guess in this version becomes "She Isn't you?"

JR.: Yes. Yes.

SHEIR: In fact, let's take a listen to that one right now.


JR.: (Singing) For love me, she may even die for me sweep every cloud from the sky for me (unintelligible) queen she will never be you.

SHEIR: Well, I have read that it's faring better at the box office than a lot of new musicals on Broadway. And I'm sure quite a few people are coming because they love you. They're huge Harry Connick Jr. fans. Do you mind if people buy tickets because they think they're seeing what they might call, you know, a Harry Connick Jr. musical?

JR.: Well, I - listen, I mean, I was doing a show the other day and I start the show off with this monologue, sort of this expository monologue that allows people to sort of gently ramp into this world. And at the end of the monologue the other night, some guy goes: Hey, Harry. You know, oh, my God.


JR.: So I think there are some people who maybe don't realize that I'm playing a character, which is really scary, because, God knows, I would never do some of the things I'm doing onstage as myself, you know? But I think that's the minority - I think most people realize that I'm playing a part.

SHEIR: I'm sure you're aware of the critical reaction to this show. It's been mixed, but some publications have been, in a word, brutal. The original show wasn't exactly graciously received back in the '60s. Were you surprised by how this production has been received?

JR.: Listen, I - what are my options? Do I change my performance based on what they said? Or do I cry? Do I seek psychological help? I mean, there's nothing I can do. You're talking about a Broadway show, which is a living, breathing organism that changes night after night. It's not like reviewing a CD, which is static, or a movie. It's a bunch of actors that are trying to do something to the best of their ability.

And listen, man, honestly speaking, if people don't dig it, I mean, that's all right. There's no stats in the arts. I mean, I can't go out there and say: Hey, you can't say anything about me because I threw six touchdowns. I mean, it's all subjective. So if a publication doesn't like it, I mean, that's really OK.

SHEIR: In a way, is it easier reading theatrical reviews because they're reviewing you playing a character in a larger production directed by someone else versus you, Harry Connick Jr., on the stage, yourself in live in concert?

JR.: Oh, it doesn't matter. And I never - I see what you're saying, but I didn't really read - I read two or three reviews. I actually kind of enjoy the worst the reviews - all the bad reviews, too, has made me giggle. The one review I did read was in New York Times. And...

SHEIR: Ben Bradlee?

JR.: Ben Bradlee.

SHEIR: Yeah.

JR.: And he said that I looked like I just got out of grueling dental surgery. I mean, that's just funny.

SHEIR: That's funny for you.


JR.: Well, I mean, I can't change the way I looked when I sing. Oh, man. It's just part of it, you know? It's all right.

SHEIR: That's Harry Connick Jr. He plays Dr. Mark Bruckner in the Broadway revival of "On A Clear Day, You Can See Forever." Harry, thanks so much for joining us.

JR.: Hey, thanks for having me.


JR.: (as Dr. Mark Bruckner) (Singing) Too late now to imagine myself away from you.

JESSIE MUELLER: (as Melinda Wells) (Singing) Too late now to imagine myself away from you. All the things we've done together I relive when we're apart.

JR.: (as Dr. Mark Bruckner) (Singing) All the tender fun together stays on in my heart.

SHEIR: And for Sunday, that's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Rebecca Sheir. Check out our weekly podcast, the best of WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. You can find it at iTunes or on Sunday evenings. Guy Raz is back on the program next weekend. Until then, thanks for listening, and happy New Year. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.