The musical A Sentimental Journey, The Story of Doris Day gives an enjoyable glimpse at Day’s journey through her impressive career, but also offers more than you would expect. Thanks to its vibrant star Sally Hughes, the surprising show gives depth to the tumultuous private life of America’s girl-next-door. Now playing at the historic El Portal Theatre through Nov. 20, it has 20 familiar songs helping the narration of Day’s story, told by her only child Terry Melcher, powerfully played by Conor Sheridan.
It is a tale well told, this musical import from England’s The Mill At Sonning Theatre, produced in the U.S. by Jay Irwin and Pegge Forrest. Not a fluff piece, it touches on domestic abuse and tragedy, along with Day’s yearning for her marriages (she had four) to be as successful as her career. We hear Day’s signature song “Que Sera, Sera” early on, with her mother (Elizabeth Elvin) tenderly singing it, preparing Doris for disappointments. As Doris, Hughes was appropriately perky for the images we have in our memories, such as Day in Calamity Jane and The Doris Day Show. Then she lets the emotions bubble to the surface when faced with her unhappy marriages.
A small cast pulls off the husbands, family, and friends that parade pass. Nick Warning is extraordinary as her papa and husbands Al and Marty. Equally outstanding is Tom Sellwood as hubby George and Frank Sinatra, among others. Elizabeth Elvin is a chameleon as mama and many more. All belt out wonderful songs along with Hughes. Highlights include “It’s Magic” from Romance on the High Seas, “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps,” and “Love Me or Leave Me.”
Making the four-piece band the centerpiece on the stage was an inspired touch that worked to expand the feel of the production directed by Alvin Rakoff. With musical director and arranger Jo Steward at the piano (Les Brown would have been proud); Glen Ochenkoski, on drums/percussion; Michael Benedict, woodwinds; and Ernie Nunez, double bass, the scenes of Doris Day singing with the big bands and on radio came alive. Choreographer Joseph Pitcher added steps to keep things energetic throughout the show, written by Adam Rolston.
Day’s costumes were perfect for recreating the eras thanks to designer Jan Kidd. The simple set by Eileen Diss strikingly framed the show, with lighting by Max Blank.
At the end there was a mention of The Doris Day Animal Foundation and that she now lives a happy life in Carmel-by-the-Sea. A reference to Day’s former Toluca Lake home also produced smiles.
A Sentimental Journey, The Story of Doris Day plays the El Portal Theatre’s Main Stage, in North Hollywood, Nov. 2 to 20. Call for tickets (818) 508-4200, or online at www.elportaltheatre.com.