Many were the unsung virtues of this season’s criminally short-lived On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, but chief among them was the compelling characterization at the musical’s sweet center. Back in 1965, when Clear Day first appeared and first flopped on Broadway, that core was “Daisy,” a loopy woman with psychic powers, but in the recent revival, it became “Davey,” a gay man with an equally unconventional inner life. (This gender reassignment was director Michael Mayer’s stab at injecting drama into a notoriously flawed original script.)
This revision is an “unsung virtue” because, as a character, Davey represents a notable moment for Broadway storytelling. Clear Day’s creators have deemed his persona—weak-willed, insecure, gay—worthy of driving a musical, a pantheon usually reserved for more conventionally amenable or inoffensive types. This may seem a small distinction, but it actually means a great deal. Just as Death of a Salesman told us that the common man’s troubles were equal to the likes of Greek tragedians, so too does this Clear Day argue that Davey is every bit the viable Broadway hero as, say, Harold Hill.
Gay characters, of course, aren’t new, so what sets Davey apart is the way he successfully evades what I’d call the “triple threat” of typical gay stories: He’s not swathed in the protective dressing of camp, for one. Nor is he over-sexualized. And he’s not defined by some kind of horrific tragedy. Instead, Davey is just, well, a real person: flawed, funny, complicated, interesting and sympathetic.
Nobody gave these artistic choices much attention, and Broadway is a lesser place for that oversight. All one can do is to hope that this sort of unconventional, engaging storytelling doesn’t forever abandon Broadway for the smaller houses of downtown.
2011 photo by Paul Kolnik