Theater Review: A Sentimental Journey

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Away from her bright and breezy film and television image, the often troubled life of Doris Day offers plenty of drama for a show, and Adam Rolston's "A Sentimental Journey" makes a creditable stab at it.

Presented as an informal tale related by Day's son Terry Melcher and Day herself, the show takes the star from her earliest days in Cincinnati, when a car-train wreck ended her ambitions to be a dancer, to success as a big band singer to her time as the No. 1 movie star in the world.

Her several difficult marriages -- including one that left her broke, in debt and committed to doing record albums and a TV series she didn't know about -- also are dealt with.

Dotted along the way, though not in chronological order, are a couple of dozen hit songs from the Doris Day songbook, and thanks to a talented cast topped by Sally Hughes, it makes for an entertaining evening.

First-time playwright Rolston is aided by having veteran TV helmer Alvin Rakoff ("A Dance to the Music of Time," "A Voyage Round My Father"), a Canadian who has been based in the U.K. for most of his career, direct the piece.

The small stage at the Mill at Sonning, an acclaimed and always sold-out dinner theater west of London, has to make room for a four-piece band, so there's not much space for the players to move around.

Still, Hughes and Ian McLarnon, who plays Day's son, along with Tom Wallers, Carol Ball and Glyn Kerslake -- who play assorted roles ranging from Day's mother and father to Frank Sinatra to Day's notorious agent-husband Marty Melcher -- make the best of it.

The acting is spot-on, but it's the singing that resonates. All the cast members have appealing voices, but Hughes, who also is artistic director at the theater, often is uncanny in replicating Day's tone and phrasing. Pretty, blond and youthful enough to impersonate the star at all ages, Hughes really nails some of the more demanding songs such as Gordon & Warren's "At Last," Fain & Webster's "Secret Love" and Styne & Cahn's "It's Magic."

Whether the production will have a life beyond the Mill at Sonning remains to be seen. It would need some development, but given Day's dramatic story and those wonderful songs, it wouldn't come as a surprise.

Venue: The Mill at Sonning, Oxfordshire, England (Through April 19)
Cast: Sally Hughes, Ian McLarnon, Tim Wallers, Carol Ball, Glyn Kerslake
Book: Adam Rolston
Director: Alvin Rakoff
Choreographer: Joseph Pitcher
Set designer: Eileen Diss
Lighting designer: Matthew Biss
Costume designer: Jane Kidd
Musical director: Jo Stewart
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