By Harry Forbes
We can be thankful to Irish Rep Artistic Director Charlotte Moore for bringing us a reasonably faithful revival of Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner’s imperfect but worthy 1965 musical -- later a Vincente Minnelli film starring Barbra Streisand -- and helping eradicate the bitter taste of the most recent exceedingly odd 2011 Broadway revival.
Here, the basic storyline, and much of Lerner’s dialogue, remains true to the original. Chain smoking Daisy Gamble (Melissa Errico) is led to psychiatrist Dr. Mark Bruckner (Stephen Bogardus) to cure her chain smoking. Once in his class, however, she proves highly susceptible to hypnosis, and is revealed to possess extraordinary ESP and telekinetic powers. But, more significantly, when she is regressed to childhood, she trips back even further in time to reveal a past life as an 18th century English lady named Melinda Wells. Bruckner falls in love with the earlier incarnation of the lady leading to complications especially when Daisy herself falls for Bruckner.
Despite the formidable presence of Harry Connick, Jr. and Jessie Mueller in the 2011 version, adapter Peter Parnell made some fairly radical alterations, including changing the gender of the heroine to “David,” a gay florist, while the flashback sequences hearkened not to 18th century England but to 1940’s Big Band era USA with Daisy’s earlier self Melinda now a jazz vocalist. Songs from Lane and Lerner’s “Royal Wedding” score were gratuitously interpolated. It just didn’t work.
On this occasion, Moore -- who both directed and adapted Lerner’s original script -- has done some fiddling herself, but nothing half so extreme. A couple of songs and characters have been dropped. Gone is the Greek magnate who wants to leave his fortune to himself and his amusing but expendable song “When I’m Being Born Again” and so is the character of Daisy’s fiance Warren (now merely an ensemble character), and her Olde English pastiche number, “Tosy and Cosh.” only played as background. In the original, Daisy had to give up smoking so as not to compromise her fiance’s job prospects; here, it’s her own.
In place of these numbers, there’s the number that Jack Nicholson was supposed to sing in the film, “Who Is There Among Us Who Knows” (filmed but cut prior to release) done here as an attractive ensemble piece. Joanna Gleason sang Streisand’s movie songs in a 1980 San Francisco revival opposite Robert Goulet who had popularized the show’s title tune on record, but they’re not included here. Those numbers were also utilized in 2011.
Many find the reincarnation aspects of the plot ludicrous, but I’ve always found it rather intriguing, and the whole delightful, dotted as it is with such classic songs as “Come Back to Me,” “What Did I Have That I Don’t Have?” and “Hurry, It’s Lovely Up Here.”
Errico, who brings magic to all her work for the Irish Rep, creates a distinctive Daisy/Melinda, quite unlike originator Barbara Harris or Streisand. Pure New Yawk as Daisy, she’s convincingly the genteel English lady as Melinda. And her singing is splendid as always, clean and pure, with a brassy belt at the climaxes of “Hurry, It’s Lovely Up Here” and her second act showstopper “What Did I have That I Don’t Have?”
Stephen Bogardus is solid enough as Bruckner but I feel fails to spark sufficiently the rather colorless role. He handles his three big numbers with aplomb, however: “Melinda,” “Come Back to Me” (another chart topper in its day), and the title number.
John Cudia brings his strong tenor pipes to the role of Edward Moncrief, Melinda’s philandering husband, and “She Wasn’t You” is a showstopper. Errico sings it, too, as “He Wasn’t You.” (Yves Montand got to sing a variation of the song in the film, but that, too, was cut, and only Streisand’s remains.)
There’s nice work from Daisy Hobbs and Caitlin Gallogly as Daisy’s rooftop buddies, and Rachel Coloff as Bruckner’s crusty secretary.
Other textual changes: the lively “On the S.S. Bernard Cohn” has lost its intro referencing her fiance Warren, and Warren’s “Wait Till We’re 65” extolling the virtues of Social Security and so forth, is now sung by Daisy’s friends as they persuade her to take a stable job.
The ensemble of five musicians, under the direction of Gary Adler, provides a pretty if intimate orchestral palette in Josh Clayton’s new orchestrations. Barry McNabb has provided the nice choreography for the intimate space, most elaborately in the “Wait Till We’re 65” number.
Ryan Belock’s fluid projections (pretty projection art courtesy of set designer James Morgan) allow for seamless time shifting. Whitney Locher’s era-leaping costumes and May Jo Dondlinger’s apt lighting are further plusses.
The strong-voiced ensemble does outstanding work throughout, and gives good measure to the title song on the theater’s balcony steps.
(Irish Rep Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street; 866-811-4111 or irishrep.org; through September 6)
Pictured: Craig Waletzko, Melissa Errico, and William Bellamy. Photo: Carol Rosegg