'On a Clear Day,' reincarnated nicely

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In this theater image released by The Hartman

In this theater image released by The Hartman Group, David Turner portrays David Gamble in the musical "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever." Photo Credit: AP

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Director Michael Mayer calls his new version of "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever" a "reincarnation" instead of a revival.

This works for a musical about past-life therapy. Better still, it also works for the new life given to this entertaining, stylish, new-old fashioned rethinking of the preposterous 1965 show and 1970 movie that happened to have lovely romantic songs by Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner.

But first, an aside: No matter how hard I try to remain a buzz-free zone in our opinion-mad Internet culture, catastrophic advance word about this adaptation starring Harry Connick Jr. -- including a pre-opening pan last week from an editorial writer at another newspaper -- has been impossible to avoid.

So it's a relief and a special pleasure to report that Mayer, in a square-cornered turn from his smart-rock productions of "Spring Awakening" and "American Idiot," has joined playwright Peter Parnell to change an unworkable plot into a more-than-serviceable gender-bending framework. There's a mostly-classy cast, a fantasy op-art set and almost two dozen wonderful songs from the Broadway production and the film.

Of course, this is still a shaggy-psychiatrist story about a doctor (Connick) who falls in love with a hypnotized patient's previous incarnation. The difference here -- and it's a big one -- is that the patient is not a woman (the much loved Barbara Harris on Broadway, Barbra Streisand in the film).

Instead, the patient is gay man (played with a daring feyness if limited vocal range by David Turner). But 30 years earlier, in 1943, he was an up-and-coming female jazz singer whom the shrink, a grieving widower, finds irresistible.

It helps credibility that Jessie Mueller, who plays her, happens to be pretty irresistible, too. Mueller, a Chicago talent in her Broadway debut, has a forthright, confident rhythm that suggests the young Liza Minnelli but a delicate, deliciously precise sound all her own.

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Locations change with sliding furniture against op-art checks, stripes and swirling pinwheels (set by Christine Jones). Clothes from the '70s are aptly hideous, cartoony oranges and flowers (by Catherine Zuber). Connick, a smoothie with an easygoing croon and soft-sell passion, spends much of the time as a buttoned-up, formal man unaccustomed to ethical and gay ambiguities. So when he breaks lose, even a little, it matters.
WHAT"On a Clear Day You Can See Forever"

WHERESt. James Theatre, 246 W. 44th St.

INFO$35-$157; 212-239-6200; onacleardaybroadway.com

BOTTOM LINENew-old rediscovery

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