BACK STAGE WEST
April 09, 1998
DEFINITELY DORIS: THE MUSIC OF DORIS DAY
at the Falcon Theatre
Reviewed by Rob Kendt
There was the Doris Day who mattered, and then there was "Doris Day" the brand name. The first was a sunny, springy musical comedienne and persuasive pop crooner; the latter was the witless, scary icon of virginal feminine honor, a second career of sorts that Ms. Day embarked upon at the age of 35 (with Pillow Talk), and with which her name became synonymous. You'd think that a show put together by a trio of avid fans--in this case, performer/writer Patty Carver, writer/arranger Leo P. Carusone, and director/producer Jerry Goehring--might do a little sifting for us, and help us rediscover the Day who lit up the ageless film musicals Pajama Game and Calamity Jane and who not only admirably fronted Les Brown's big band but made a few elegant, mostly overlooked jazz trio records.
Instead, in the new revue Definitely Doris, we're treated to an ungainly sugar headache of a show. It touches on some obvious hits--"Sentimental Journey," "Que Sera, Sera"--but is top-loaded with some of the most inane and worthless tunes Day pressed to vinyl (does the world ever need to hear "By the Kissing Rock" or "Candy Lips" again?). And Carusone's arrangements, played by music director Dan Belzer at the piano and bassist Steven Cowee, are square and syrupy. That's fine for some of Day's upbeat cornpone material--"Anyway the Wind Blows," "A Guy Is a Guy," or Calamity Jane's rousing "Deadwood Stage"--but it condemns the jazzier fare, from "Ten Cents a Dance" to "Lover Come Back," to Lawrence Welk territory. Larry Sousa's musical staging steps in to provide a bit of business, most of it diverting if uninspiring.
It doesn't help matters that the five-member cast, which harmonizes nicely, is more strongly represented by the male voices: hulking bass Lyle Kanouse, suave baritone Perry Stephens, and plangent tenor John Heffron. Though Carver looks a bit like Day, her voice doesn't have its husky heft, and the charming Julia Gregory, an impish Bernadette Peters type, fares better the further she gets from doing Day straight.
Carver and Carusone's script, such as it is, intersperses fan letters to Day with the star's own reminiscences, as well as droll transcripts of her numerous commercial endorsements (which provide the evening's only real laughs--and they're on Day). There are some cute nods to her fans' obsessiveness, including a witty tango riff on "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps," performed winningly by Heffron. Indeed, Heffron keeps his edge and aplomb most effectively, even when the treacle is flowing, and his choirboy turn on "Secret Love," set up perfectly by a story about Rock Hudson's final years, sends chills.
But all told, this is a show that pays "tribute" to its subject not so much by sharing a sympathetic or considered understanding of her best work but by slapping a dopey happy face on it.
"Definitely Doris: The Music of Doris Day," presented by Today's World Productions at the Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Dr., Burbank. Apr. 3-May 3. (818) 955-8101