Lawrence Harbison, The Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. This week, Larry reports on ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER, GODSPELL, CLOSE UP SPACE, THE CANTERBURY TALES REMIXED, LYSISTRATA JONES, SISTAS, HOW THE WORLD BEGAN, THE ROAD TO MECCA.

The revival (revisal?) of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever at the St. James, which is closing next month, is not as bad as you’ve heard; but neither is it all that good. I am unfamiliar with the original production, which double-cast Barbara Harris as both a psychiatrist’s patent and the woman she was in a past life, which notoriously didn’t work, so all I can say is that the decision to make the patient a gay man and his past incarnation a female swing music singer doesn’t work either – though it does give Harry Connick, Jr. the opportunity to almost-kiss his cute patient, David, at the end of Act 1. Harry spends most of his time in the 1940s, with Melinda the chantoosie, with whom he falls in love. In other words, this is not only about reincarnation – it’s also about time travel. This new incarnation just doesn’t work, either.

That said, the show features lovely songs by Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner, winningly delivered by a fine cast. Connick has been derided for being miscast, I guess because he never takes off his shirt or plays the piano; but I thought he was excellent, both in his acting and in his singing. David Turner, who plays David, is a gifted comic actor here constrained by a straight role, if such a thing can be said of a character who’s about as fey as fey can get, and –surprise, surprise! – he sings beautifully in a rich baritone. The other lead, Jessie Mueller, is giving the best performance in the show, as Melinda.

If you can buy the premise, you just might enjoy On a Clear Day, You Can See Forever. You’d have to make a huge willing suspension of disbelief, though.

Meanwhile, the revival of the early 1970’s Stephen Schwartz musical, Godspell, is hanging on at Circle in the Square, I think largely because it must have a low weekly nut. It’s a rather goofy show about what used to be called “Jesus Freaks,” its book updated with many contemporary topical references, performed by an energetic and very talented young cast headed by Hunter Parrish as JC, who’s not the hippie of the original production but a guy who looks like he’s wandered in from The Book of Mormon.

This is a silly take on Christianity, probably more palatable to skeptics than to believers.

Another show that’s not as bad as you’ve heard is Molly Smith Metzler’s Close up Space, wherein David Hyde Pierce plays a supercilious book editor as a variation on Niles from “Fraser.” Metzler has a gift for wacky characters and even wackier dialogue. She’s been slammed for this one, but watch for her Elemeno Pea, a hit at last year’s Humana Festival, currently at South Coast Rep and I think coming to NYC next season.

Hip-hop hipster Baba Brinkman is back at the Soho Playhouse, this time with The Canterbury Tales Remixed , a rapped version of three of Chaucer’s tales with Beowulf thrown in for good measure, which I found delightful. Brinkman is a charismatic performer and a gifted wordsmith, and he makes the rap idiom more than palatable – which is a lot coming from someone who is usually as appalled by rap as I am.

Lysistrata Jones, which moved from Off Broadway to Broadway and Died The Death, was a goofy modern adaptation of Aristophanes’ comic classic about a sex strike; in this case, by cheerleaders fed up with their school basketball team’s lackadaisical attitude about winning. It was as delightful on Broadway as it was Off, but with no stars it had no chance. If commercial Off Broadway were economically viable, that’s where it should have gone.

Sistas, which plays a few performances a week at Theatre at St. Luke’s, is an engaging though rather contrived musical about black women who have gathered in the attic to go through the possessions of the recently-deceased family matriarch, there to talk a lot about the past (mostly boring) and sing kickass versions of songs made famous by the likes of Dionne Warwick, Billie Holliday and The Supremes (wonderful). I took a Black lady friend and she whooped it up. The book’s mediocre; but if you love hearing this music again, as I do, you won’t mind so much.

The Women’s Project continues their roll with Catherine Trieschmann’s mighty fine How the World Began, at the Peter Jay Sharp Theatre in Theatre Row, about a city woman who is trying to put her life back together by teaching high school biology in a small town in the heart of the Bible Belt, who runs afoul of local religious beliefs when she refers to the Book of Genesis as “gobbledygook.” Heidi Schreck is superb as the teacher, and the play itself has much to say about the vast cultural divide between secularists and evangelicals which is so much a part of our current political debate.

This one’s a don’t-miss.

Athol Fugard’s The Road to Mecca, being revived by Roundabout at the American Airlines Theatre, is a mixed bag. It’s a fine production of a rather tedious (particularly the first act) play about an elderly artist named Helen who lives by herself in a house out in the karoo who just may be thinking of suicide the young woman who drives from Johannesburg to try and save her and an elderly preacher who wants to put her in an old folks’ home. Rosemary Harris and Carla Gugino are excellent, but the standout performance comes from Jim Dale, most touching as the preacher.

Three great actors, in a boring play.

ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER. St. James Theatre, 246 W. 44th St.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

GODSPELL. Circle in the Square, 235 W. 50th St.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

CLOSE UP SPACE. Manhattan Theatre Club at City Center, 131 W. 55th St.

TICKETS: 212-581-1212

THE CANTERBURY TALES REMIXED. Soho Playhouse, 15 Vandam St.

TICKETS: 212-691-1555

LYSISTRATA JONES. Alas, Closed

SISTAS. Theatre at St. Luke’s, 308 W. 46th St.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

HOW THE WORLD BEGAN. Peter Jay Sharp Theatre, 416 W. 42nd St.

TICKETS: www.ticketcentral.com or 21227-4200

THE ROAD TO MECCA. American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St

TICKETS: 212-719-1300

For discount tickets for groups of ten or more, contact Carol Ostrow Productions & Group Sales. Phone: 212-265-8500. E-Mail: ostrow1776@aol.com.

“It requires a certain largeness of spirit to give generous appreciation to large achievements. A society with a crabbed spirit and a cynical urge to discount and devalue will find that one day, when it needs to draw upon the reservoirs of excellence, the reservoirs have run dry.”

— George F. Will

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who actually does strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

— Theodore Roosevelt

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