Adam Rolston and Alvin Rakoff’s musical portrayal of the life story of Doris Day - the highest-ranking female box office star of all time - could not be more appropriately housed than within Wilton’s, the world's oldest and last surviving grand music hall.
Doris (Sally Hughes) enters the faux-marble stage, which is decorated with pastel stripes of blue, yellow and pink, singing “Sentimental Journey”, the first of 25 songs. She does so with warmth and charisma as her son Terry (Ian McLarnon) delivers a seamless narration of his mother’s early life.
But the care-free, all-American image that Terry begins to paint is soon interrupted by Doris, who stops midway through the song, halting the live band and expressing her desire to correct the “load of old hooey” dreamt up by the studios and the press over the years. This early disruption sets the tone for the remainder of Doris’ turbulent times, told through the upbeat songs of hope and longing that she became most famous for. For example, a disturbing scene of domestic violence is followed closely by a surreal comic routine in which the other three actors - Mark Halliday, Elizabeth Elvin and Glyn Kerslake - sing and dance along to Hughes’s rendition of “Pretty Baby” in bonnets, throwing around a plastic doll.
The versatility and stamina of all the performers is astounding, with Halliday, Elvin and Kerslake excelling in their multiple roles as Doris’ colourful lovers, friends and relatives. Halliday deserves particular mention for his mastery of several different regional American accents. However, the shining moment of the whole musical is McLarnon’s rendition of “These Days”, which is not only ideally suited to his higher vocal range, but also perfectly placed within the story as a whole, to convey a strikingly unsentimental and bittersweet message.
Overall, the portrayal of Doris’ character flirts erratically between that of an ambitious careerist who was married four times, and a simple, indecisive dreamer who was thrust into the limelight as a teenager. These opposing traits would not sit so comfortably in another story but are fitting for this fast-paced tale of a complex character who recorded over 650 hit singles and made 39 movies, yet “only ever wanted to be in a happy marriage”.
- Patrick Coyle