Mary Cleere Haran, like so many children of the 1950s, long looked askance at bright-and-sunny Hollywood star Doris Day. Instead, as a budding singer, she latched onto Ella Fitzgerald for inspiration. Stumbling across a 25-year-old Day film in 1979, Haran glimpsed the tortured truth behind the facade. After years of discovery — culminating in a PBS biographical documentary she wrote and coproduced — Haran has devised a fascinating cabaret salute to Day.
Hollywood discovered the band singer — originally Doris von Kappelhoff, from Cincinnati — and put her in a parade of musicals, some negligible, others such as “Calamity Jane,” “Love Me or Leave Me” and “The Pajama Game,” fairly accomplished.
With the end of the musical era, Day was recast as the pert and smart star of a series of romantic comedies, all the while undergoing a soap opera of a life: broken home, four broken marriages — including one to a husband/manager who burned through $20 million and left Day in debt — and numerous other cheery episodes. The 83-year-old star lives today in relative seclusion in Carmel, Calif., devoting her efforts to animal rights.
Haran weaves all this into a fascinating narrative, interspersed with 14 of the songs Day helped make famous. These include “Sentimental Journey,” “I’ll Never Stop Loving You” and “Que Sera, Sera” (the latter introduced in what is arguably Day’s finest role, opposite James Stewart in Hitchcock’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much”).
Haran has long established herself as a fine singer, seemingly inhabiting the songs she performs. In her new show at Feinstein’s, the singing — backed by an expert trio, led by Don Rebic — is equaled by the storytelling. The singer and director Richard Jay-Alexander turn the stormy tale of Doris Day into a rewarding evening of song and story.