A Sentimental Journey: The Story of Doris Day [Wilton’s Music Hall]

A Sentimental Journey
The story of Doris Day written by Adam RolstonMusic and lyrics by Les Brown, Ben Homer, Bud Green, Jule Styne, Sammy Cahn, Jay Livingston, Ray Evans, Vincent Youmans, Irving Caesar, Axel Stordahl, Paul Weston, Gus Chandler, Bert White, Henry Cohen, Herb Magidson, Carl Sigman, Irving Berlin, Mack Gordon, Harry Warren, Tony Jackson, Gus Kahn, Egbert Van Alstyne, Osvaldo Forres, Joe Davis, Edward Heyman, Dana Seusse, Walter Donaldson, Sammy Fain, Paul Francis Webster, Joe Lubin, Hal Kanter, Terry Melcher, Johnny Richards, Carolyn Leigh, Wilbur Schwandt, Fabian Andre, Johnny Burke, Jimmy Van Heusen, Richard A. Whiting, Raymond B. Egan, Jackson Browne, Richard Rodgers, and Lorenz Hart

Doris Day – Sally Hughes
Ian McLarnon – Terry Melcher
Alma Kappelhoff / Grace Raine, et al – Elizabeth Elvin
Al Jorden / William Kappelhoff / Marty Melcher – Mark Halliday
Frank Sinatra, et al – Glyn Kerslake

Jo Stewart – Musical Director, Arranger, Piano
Barry Graham – Clarinet, Alto and Tenor Saxophone
Steve Rossell – Double bass
Jeff Lardner – Drums & Percussion

Alvin Rakoff – Director
Joseph Pitcher – Choreographer
Eileen Diss – Designer
Jane Kidd – Costume Designer
Filippo de Capitani – Lighting Designer
Mary Stone – Production Sound

Reviewed by: Michael Darvell

Reviewed: 11 March, 2010
Venue: Wilton's Music Hall, Grace’s Alley, London E1

Doris Day or Doris Mary Anne Kappelhoff, to give the actress-singer her birth-name, will be 88 on 3 April 3 2010. She had a long career as a singer, a recording artist of over 650 songs, a film and television star and she was at one time the most popular performer in Hollywood. She endeared herself to the American public and the rest of the world as a typical girl-next-door figure, although she denies that the “oldest virgin in the business” image was any of her own doing. It was Hollywood who cast her in those romantic comedies of the 1960s which faded out at the bedroom door. Earlier on she wanted to be a dancer but an injury put paid to that. Instead she became a successful singer working with the bands of Jimmy James, Bob Crosby and Les Brown. She was discovered while working with Brown by songwriters Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn who, when Betty Hutton got pregnant, made Doris her replacement in “Romance on the High Seas” (1947), Doris’s first film, even though she had no ambitions to be an actress. All she really wanted was a happy marriage, an ambition she has yet to fulfil.

Under contract to Warner Brothers, Doris went on to make many other musical features such as “Tea for Two”, “Lullaby of Broadway”, “On Moonlight Bay”, “By the Light of the Silvery Moon” and the classic “Calamity Jane”, as well as dramas including “Storm Warning”, “Love Me or Leave Me”, “The Man Who Knew Too Much”, “Julie” and “Midnight Lace”. More musicals and comedies came along (“The Pajama Game”, “Teacher’s Pet”, “The Tunnel of Love” and “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies”) but then came the string of films she made in the late 1950s and early 1960s with the likes of Rock Hudson, Cary Grant and James Garner, namely “Pillow Talk”, “Lover Come Back”, “That Touch of Mink”, “The Thrill of It All”, and “Move Over, Darling”. These were the most popular films of her entire career.

Gradually, however, her popularity waned as the scripts deteriorated (although she turned down “The Graduate” on moral grounds) and, after having made nearly forty films, she finally gave up the movies and turned to television in 1968.Again she was not that interested in the medium but, as her then husband had mismanaged her affairs and lost all her money, she was forced to work on television to pay off her debts. Still with us, she is now content to ignore show-business and carry on with what she enjoys most, working for the Doris Day Animal Foundation in Carmel, California. In her film career Doris was nominated for several Golden Globe Awards and she won a Grammy Award, too, but she only had a single Academy Award nomination, for “Pillow Talk”, although she did introduce two Oscar-winning songs, namely ‘Secret Love’ in “Calamity Jane” and ‘Que Sera Sera’ in “The Man Who Knew Too Much”. It is surely time to award an honorary Oscar for the lifetime achievements of Doris Day.

Adam Rolston has assembled the most important parts of Doris’s life for his bio-play, which is interspersed with songs that suitably illustrate the major events of her career, her family and her marriages. The play’s title is the song that became the first hit-record Doris had in 1944. Born in Cincinnati in 1922, she was the daughter of a music teacher and his wife, two opposites who could never agree, a pattern that was to repeat itself throughout Doris’s own marriages. Her father William Kappelhoff walked out on the family early on and her mother Alma brought Doris up, shaping her interest in music. Later on Doris seemed unable to control her own life, but instead left it to her four husbands who made a mess of it.

Musician Al Jorden, her first husband, was mentally unstable. He beat her and eventually committed suicide, leaving her with her only child, a son, Terry. The second, George Weidler, left her in Hollywood and returned to New York. They divorced. The third, Martin Melcher, took Doris and her money for a ride, lost the lot and eventually died having amassed huge debts. The only good thing he did was to officially adopt Terry. Her last husband was Barry Comden, who worked at one of Doris’s favourite restaurants. The marriage ended in divorce after five years. Doris’s most famous song, ‘Que Sera Sera’, which became her signature tune, also became a self-fulfilling prophesy for her life. “Whatever will be, will be…”

In leading lady Sally Hughes the show has a star who at times looks and sounds uncannily like Doris Day. She has a similarly warm, friendly singing voice and, like Doris, immaculate enunciation. She performs most of the songs herself, with or without the other cast members, and manages to create a real person out of Adam Rolston’s biographical details of his heroine’s life. Close your eyes and, while Sally sings such numbers as ‘At Last’, ‘Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps’, ‘It’s Magic’ or ‘Love Me or Leave Me’, you could even imagine the superstar being present. Act Two opens with an extended version of ‘The Deadwood Stage’ from “Calamity Jane”, complete with an improvised wagon which tours the perimeter of the auditorium. Sally dresses in buckskins for the number and really goes to town on it.

Other outstanding songs in the two dozen or more numbers in the show are ‘Young at Heart’ (with Frank Sinatra), ‘It’s Been a Long, Long Time’, ‘It Could Happen to You’, ‘With a Song in My Heart’ and ‘Glad to Be Unhappy’. And who could sing ‘Sentimental Journey’ better than Doris? No-one, which is why it sold over five million copies. Sally Hughes does it proud. Director Alvin Rakoff obviously has great feeling for and understanding of the lady and her repertoire and his production is sympathetic without being, despite the show’s title, at all sentimental in depicting one of the world’s greatest performers who happened to lead an unfortunately sad life.

The other cast members, Mark Halliday, Elizabeth Elvin and Glyn Kerslake, play all the other characters in Doris Day’s tortuous existence, the parents, the husbands, the stars she worked with, while Ian McLarnon as Doris’s son Terry Melcher narrates the proceedings. A talented collection of musicians under Jo Stewart’s guidance provides suitably bouncy backing for some classic songs. It’s also good to hear the material being performed in such an historic building, for Wilton’s is the world’s oldest surviving music hall which is looking, like “A Sentimental Journey”, to be in fine fettle.

  • A Sentimental Journey continues at Wilton’s Music Hall, Grace’s Alley, off Ensign Street, London E1 until Sunday 4 April 2010
  • Tuesday to Saturday at 7.30 p.m., matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2.30
  • Tickets at £23.50 bookable on 020 7702 2789
  • Wilton’s Music Hall

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