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Review: On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, Squabbalogic

Rating:

A modern take on this 1960’s Broadway show does its best with strong performances but still falters in its ethically dubious narrative.

On A Clear Day You Can See Forever is one of the more unusual musicals to be revived in this new adaptation from Squabbalogic, with its themes of past life regression, reincarnation, and the elusive extrasensory perception at the heart of an unconventional “love story” that was once adapted into a film with Barbra Streisand in 1970.

Playing at the Reginald Theatre in the Seymour Centre, On A Clear Day You Can See Forever centres on David/Daisy Gamble (Jay James-Moody), an oddball with strange powers including growing flowers quickly, who becomes the latest patient for psychiatrist Dr Mark Bruckner (Blake Bowden) in the hopes of being hypnotised into stop smoking. But it’s here that Mark learns that a woman called Melinda Wells (Madeleine Jones) inhabits Daisy from a past life, and he quickly falls for her, leading him to continue seeing Daisy under false pretenses.

The original story of Daisy and Mark presents many strong ethical and moral dilemmas, and a new Broadway production in 2011 changed Daisy to David, a gay florist, to switch up some of the gender politics of the narrative. It’s from this adaptation that Squabbalogic’s Artistic Director Jay James-Moody reworked this version, moving the story into 2023 and allowing Daisy to be a gender fluid person who also goes by David.

James-Moody does triple duty in this revival, also directing and playing Daisy themself. The star of the show, you can’t take your eyes off them whenever they appear on stage, making for one of the strongest stage performances this year so far. You can feel their annoyance, sadness, frustration and confusion at all the key moments, and also hits the mark on every comedic moment available. Blake Bowden stars as Mark, in a solid performance, portraying him as the attract, intelligent doctor who begins to lose the plot the more he interacts with Melinda through Daisy. Reminding him of his deceased wife also named Melinda, Bowden does well in showing the emotional tugs at Mark’s heartstrings.

Madeleine Jones does her best as the loud and free Melinda, portraying her confidence and charm with ease, though at times feels like she is reducing her to little more than a caricature than a real-life person who once lived. She’s theatrical but would do with some solid emotional grounding (perhaps the fault of the script). The supporting performers Natalie Abbott, James Haxby, Lincoln Elliott, and Billie Palin all thrill with their vibrant charactiersations, with Haxby shining in the dual roles of Daisy’s boyfriend Warren and Melinda’s past lover.

The stage itself is worth notice. The concept and realisation (Michael Hankin and Bella Rose Saltearn) allows the stage to seamlessly transition between Mark’s office and Daisy’s flower filled rooftop, among other locations, and allows plenty of room for the impressive dancing and choreography between the characters. Some staging decisions, particularly around character entries, leave something to be desired, but most of the time, the flow of the show is sharp and stage adjustments are smooth.

One of the more unfortunate parts of the show is its lack of memorable tunes. There are two that really sing – Daisy’s Hurry! it’s Lovely Up Here! and Melinda’s Don’t Tamper With My Sister are both crowd affirming tunes. The lead song On A Clear Day You Can See Forever drags on despite the best efforts of Bowden. In fact, the first half of the show is incredibly slow with its multiple songs and scenes. The second half, even if it has lesser memorable songs. is quicker in its execution.

But it’s the ethics of the story itself that proves a bitter pill to swallow and may alienate some audience members. Though alleviating some of the concerns with the replacement of the woman Daisy to the non binary Daisy, issues of sexuality and power dynamics still play a key role in the love triangle of Mark, Melinda and Daisy. Given Daisy does not know or even consent to what Mark is doing with them, it strikes viewers as borderline abusive. Indeed, while the show agrees with this and paints him in a negative light, it reminds us of how Mark, a key player in the show, is both exploitative and deranged.

This production does a great job of leaning into the themes of self-identity and becoming true to one’s self, but unfortunately its original story and script doesn’t allow it to make enough of a criticism of contemporary psychology or the power dynamics of its central characters for it to amount to anything more than just an outdated story that should have stayed in the past. It’s a strong adaptation of a flawed show, with plenty to sing home about, if you are willing to look past its narrative shortcomings and focus on its dazzling leads.

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