Secret Love was performed at the Plowright Theatre, Scunthorpe and continues to tour until 28 November.
Doris Day was a phenomenon, and became a legend almost before her time. Born Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff in Cincinnati in 1924, she was a teen star – by 13 a potential dancer – groomed for the stage and, more importantly, almost 40 films, in an era when movie stardom really hit the heights. Somewhere between Forces’ Sweetheart, Greta Garbo and a big band answer to her heroine Ella Fitzgerald, by 15 she was on the way and soon hit the top.
Beautifully written by Phil Willmott who also directs, the musical play Secret Love includes a specially recorded message from the almost 90-year-old Day herself (the name came from her singing the post-war hit ‘Day after Day’). The show itself turns out to be a true celebration of the singer and actress which thankfully does not try to ape her vocal mannerisms or spectacular blonde hairstyles.
The music – a wonderful survey of Day’s great hits – is characterfully backed by a traditional onstage trio – keyboard, bass, drums – led by musical director Malcolm Edmonstone. The actor/singers are a trio too, beginning with Claudia Morris as the feisty, ambitious yet blessedly innocent young singer, eventually going through four marriages and moments of financial collapse (due to one imprudent husband, also her agent), and caring desperately post-war for her son Terry.
Actor Andrew Glen plays several agreeable bit parts and proves himself a truly fine singer, a wonderful tenor sound that enhances the production. The acting from fellow-Scot David Haydn, who portrays (amongst others) the husbands, is a joy, engaging the audience from start to finish. Every generous smile and well-meaning smirk, shy shuffle or quiver of the shoulders, speaks volumes.
The way Willmott and Morris have woven the songs into the story of Day’s life – a saga of rich variety and intense, lovable humanity and ordinariness – is frankly miraculous. I can think of only one similar show I have seen recently which had a comparable impact – albeit more ironically – and that was Maureen Lipman in Glorious, where she charted the career of the American singer Florence Foster Jenkins.
Lipman performed the Queen of the Night’s aria from Mozart’s The Magic Flute and sang it perfectly out of tune (that was Jenkins’ speciality). Morris, by contrast, sings with flair and beauty, innocence and integrity, and with her colleagues catches appetisingly the hip, louche nature of the 1950s Sinatra-era. When the three sing together, it’s even more magical still.