With perfect timing Doris Day has released her first album in 17 years just as U.K. theater the Mill at Sonning prepares to takes its bio-drama about the ’50s icon to El Portal Theater in Los Angeles after a successful run on the Edinburgh Fringe. Like Day herself — or at least her public persona — the tuner is pleasant, inoffensive and well intentioned, giving auds an excuse to hear the old hits sandwiched between brief vignettes about her life. The low-budget production by helmer Alvin Rakoff, a two-time Emmy winner, is neither demanding nor inspired, but it has a good heart and does some justice to the easy-listening originals.
The book by Adam Rolston is a straight-forward run-through of the life of the singer born Doris Kappelhoff in Cincinnati in 1924. It is narrated by Terry Melcher (Conor Michael Sheridan), Day’s son by her first husband, trombonist Al Jorden. The show doesn’t shy away from the domestic abuse that prompted Jorden’s departure, but neither does the episodic script dwell on it. Whatever the dramas in Day’s life, another breezy song is never far away. This is not a show that requires our emotional investment; even the death of Melcher, an unusual fate for a narrator, passes swiftly by.
Before that point, we get brisk scenes in which Doris marries a fickle George Weidler, then a controlling Marty Melcher, before settling with Barry Comden. There is an early talent contest and the railway-crossing accident that nearly ended her career, as well as the ups and downs of her Hollywood years. For the most part, Rolston writes these snapshots efficiently, even if the credibility of his dialogue sometimes sinks under the weight of factual information.
The songs are well integrated, with the exception of “Que Sera Sera” which Day’s mother (Elizabeth Elvin) introduces with a clunky, “What will be will be, Doris.” It’s a self-consciously cheesy line that’s not typical of the show as a whole: In general, the songs are well matched to the mood, so “Day by Day” sets out the journey ahead, “Pretty Baby” is about Terry’s arrival and “Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps” responds to the uncertainty of Day’s relationship with a shy boyfriend.
Crucially, tunes are played with a low-key lack of fuss that this pre-rock ‘n’ roll music demands. Sally Hughes is an unhistrionic Day with a feel for the honey-voiced girl-next-door charm of a star whose music gave away no secrets about her volatile private life. Supported by a four-piece band, she is the unshowy center of a modest and unpretentious production.Musical numbers: “Que Sera Sera,” “Tea for Two, Day by Day,” “Canadian Capers (Cuttin’ Capers),” “Pretty Baby,” “Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps,” “You Oughta Be in Pictures,” “It’s Magic,” “Love Me or Leave Me,” “The Deadwood Stage,” “Secret Love,” “Move Over Darling,” “Young at Heart,” “It’s Been a Long Long Time,” “These Days,” “With a Song in My Heart,” “Sentimental Journey”