It's no easy feat to take on a role originated by, not one, but two legendary divas of the stage, yet actor David Turner has taken on the challenge head on. He has masterfully slipped into the shoes of David Gamble--formerly Daisy Gamble--in the current Broadway revival of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, running through January 29th at the St. James Theatre (buy tickets here). In the original production, the part of ditzy Daisy--whose past life seduces her psychiatrist during a hypnosis session--was played by Barbara Harris, and by Barbara Streisand in the 1970 film adaptation. Now re-imagined with a book by Peter Parnell and under the direction of Michael Mayer, the story hinges on the quirky David, his boyfriend, and his therapist, Dr. Bruckner, who falls in love with David's female past life. We caught Turner, known for his work in Broadway productions of Arcadia, Sunday in the Park with George, and The Invention of Love, who spoke with us about how starring in a Broadway show is the best weight loss plan, what it's like to fill the shoes of these two iconic women, and the audiences' reactions to this new production.
How did this show come into your life? As an actor, you can't really plan for anything. My agent called and said, "I have an audition for you." My dirty little secret is that I'm a little picky, because I hate them. I'm not bad at them, I just hate them. I'm a nervous person. But when I read it, I thought Oh, shit. I've got to do this.
Were you familiar with the show?
No. I wasn't. But I did know the standards, because I'm a pianist.
How was the rehearsal process?
Luckily, we did two workshops first. You know when you have a goldfish--and you get it in a plastic baggie? And when you get home you put the plastic baggie in the bowl for a while before you let it go, so you don't shock it by putting it in water of a different temperature? Those workshops afforded me that. Rather than suddenly being thrust onto a Broadway stage in this role.
What was it like working on this modifed version of the original show?
It was always about shaping the piece. Each workshop was really about shaping the piece dramaturgically. Making Mark Bruckner (played by Harry Connick, Jr.) the center of the story--and that was difficult. As someone once said, "A musical is an organism hellbent on self-destruction."
How do you keep yourself in shape for the demands of a Broadway show?
It's really hard. It's hard on your body, and it's hard on relationships. My boyfriend calls himself an army wife. You're busy all day and all night, so it's tough. These are champagne problems, I know, but I don't think people realize how exhausting it can be. When I started, I weighed myself and I was 135 pounds, and I weighed myself after previews and I was 126. I'm not proud of that, I don't want to lose ten pounds.
How do you keep your singing voice in shape?
That's so nice of you to call me a singer! You know how you have a certain identity because of what people tell you? I just don't really consider myself a singer. I can't incorporate that into my sense of myself, which only adds to my anxiety. But that makes this show so incredibly exciting.
What has audience reaction been to the gay love story at the center of the show?
Well, I try not to pay attention to the audience, because anytime your outside of yourself and worrying about what it looks or sounds like, it just makes it harder to do your job. That being said, there has been some interesting reactions from people. The other day, I came out of the stage door and couple said to me, "We love you, even though you're gay." Ouch! How do you react to that? I don't even think of that when I think of the story. To me the story is about how you can fall in love with someone's soul, and what they look like, or their gender, is superseded by what's inside of them--their essence. We all fall in love with the wrong people, we ignore the people who love us. It's about human foibles.
Is it nice, as a gay man, to be playing a gay role, and for your character's sexuality to be treated with such nonchalance?
Well, I think that one of the biggest mistakes people make is doing something differently when they play a gay character. It's already in the story. The audience is told I'm gay, they see my boyfriend, they see me kiss him. I don't have to do anything differently. And if anyone objects to any degree of effeminacy I bring to the role, I say that it's the exact degree of effeminacy I bring to my real life, and if you find that offensive, then I'm sorry, it's how God made me. But, after all, it's kind of fun. Yes, we have a Broadway musical where the romantic lead is a gay person, and it's not hyper-sexualized, and it's not camp. That is an honor.
To see On a Clear Day You Can See Forever before it closes on January 29th, visit the show's website here.