‘Day After Day’ celebrates the life and music of the iconic Doris Day
P3 Theatre Company delivers the West Coast regional premiere of the 2004 bio play, which features some of the Hollywood star and singer’s biggest song hits.
By Eric Marchese
Hollywood stars of the Golden Age don’t get much bigger than Doris Day. In her prime, she was both a major singer of celebrity status and the star of one blockbuster box office hit after another.
So it’s a bit of a mystery as to why no one has created a stage show depicting her incredible life, career and music.
Tony Santamauro, a lifelong fan of Day, remedied that when he conceived of and wrote the cleverly titled stage show “Day After Day,” which is subtitled “The Life and Music of Doris Day.”
In fact, Santamauro, who refers to himself as “a fanatical fan of Doris Day since high school,” not only wrote the show; he also directed, choreographed, narrated and played all of the male roles in its 2004 world premiere production in Florida.
The show gets its West Coast premiere courtesy P3 Theatre Company when it opens on Jan. 24 at the Ernest Borgnine Theatre, a 700-seat venue located inside the Scottish Rite Cathedral in downtown Long Beach.
While the show is about Day, the production of it has always been closely tied in with Santamauro’s own family. In its debut, his daughter, Christy Mauro-Cohen, played the lead role and her husband, David Cohen, was musical director and on-stage pianist. In the upcoming production, they’re co-directing and Cohen is again musical director.
Starring as Doris Day is Deborah Robin, the first time anyone but Mauro-Cohen has played the role. Zach Appel co-stars with Robin in Santamauro’s original roles, billed in the program as “The Man” and “Narrator.”
Like Santamauro before him, Appel must display versatility. He plays three of Day’s husbands (she had four) plus various movie directors and bandleaders like Les Brown and Mitch Miller – and has six solos plus 12 duets with Robin.
Joining the two stars are Elizabeth Curtin on piano, Ernie Nunez on bass and Tony Barbarotta on drums.
Santamauro said everything connected with the show has always been tied up with his daughter, who began hearing Day’s voice, music and songs in early life through her dad’s fandom of and devotion to Day.
“I’ve always been a big fan of Doris Day,” he said, “and my daughter grew up to her music from the time she was a toddler.”
That exposure spawned a talent for singing within Christy, whose dad says “was blessed with an amazing voice.”
“Day After Day” all came together in the late 1990s when Santamauro decided to write a show about the fabled star’s life and music – and, more importantly, to write the show around his daughter, her talents, and her ability to sing like Day.
“She gets it” Santamauro says “because she was raised on it.”
Mauro-Cohen said she and her dad are “both huge fans. I knew how important it was to him to do this. Doris Day has always been like a family member to us. My dad has met her and is friends with her personal secretary.”
Indeed, Santamauro enjoyed a friendship with Day born of a chance meeting he says “cemented (his) fandom” of the star.
“Day After Day” was originally more of a concert-style show, but in 1997 a producer friend urged him to create a script that told Day’s story. It took him until 2000 to complete all the reading, research and reaching out to those who worked with Day required to yield a workable script that was an accurate account of her life.
That was no mean feat, considering the many conflicting accounts of various events in her career.
The show premiered at the Broward Stage Door Theatre in Coral Springs Florida in July, 2004, followed by some 350 performances at various theaters along Florida’s coast. Santamauro said reviews were almost uniformly positive, noting one in particular calling the show “a theatrical love letter” to the iconic star.
The Long Beach production is the show’s first since the early 2000s. As Day’s name, stardom, songs and movie performances are so widely known, and considering the theater’s proximity to where Day spent the bulk of her career, it will likely attract movie, music and theater fans – anyone intrigued by the idea of a stage show that encapsulates the iconic star’s life and music.
Shifting the show’s focus from a revue to a story about Day’s fascinating life and career doesn’t mean the music is secondary: The show features a total of 43 songs, plus an 11-song movie medley, and while only a handful are performed in their entirety, every piece of music in the show “is connected with her life – even the songs she sang but never recorded,” Santamauro said.
Even casual fans will recognize Day songs like “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” “Sentimental Journey,” “Secret Love,” “It’s Magic,” “A Guy is a Guy” and, most famously, “Que Sera Sera.”
During the 1950s, Day parlayed her vocal stardom into a movie career, appearing on screen as the quintessential “girl-next-door” in a string of Warner Bros musicals that projected a wholesome image almost impossible to live up to in contemporary American culture and society.
The level of Day’s stardom was astonishing: From 1949 to 1958, she was simultaneously the country’s top female movie star and its best-selling recording artist.
Her public image was often at odds with what Santamauro refers to as more “dramatic” and “tragic” aspects of her life, including three unhappy marriages and a bankruptcy engineered by her third husband’s business partner that left her deeply in debt.
The playwright never wanted his show to devolve into an exposé, saying his script treads the “fine line” of mentioning various specifics without getting bogged down in them.
The play depicts Day at age 60 as she recalls and recounts her early career as a 16-year-old nightclub singer to her mid-40s as she launched her television career.
Santamauro said his play supports the fact that Day “was a feminist before her time” in that her screen characters are all strong-minded, independent women who support themselves in the workaday world – and that it dispels the “stereotype” of Day’s characters as virginal: “Her persona was of a woman who chose carefully for herself when it came to men.”
You might wonder if audience members unfamiliar with Day can relate to the show.
“Teens to seniors all have loved it,” Santamauro relates, giving much of the credit to Day’s “wonderful songs, which are still relevant today.”
Eric Marchese has written about numerous subjects over more than 35 years as a freelance and staff journalist, but is best known as a critic, feature writer and news reporter covering theater.
“Day After Day (the Life and Music of Doris Day)”
Ernest Borgnine Theatre, 855 Elm Avenue (inside the Scottish Rite Cathedral), Long Beach
Jan. 24-Feb. 22. Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 and 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; also Feb. 20 Thu., 8 p.m.
(714) 689-8116, p3theatre.biz