Theatre review: Day After Day (The Life and Music of Doris Day) at the Ernest Borgnine Theatre

From+left%3A+Deborah+Robin+%28Doris+Day%29+and+Zach+Appel+%28Narrator%2FMan%29+in+Day+After+Day+at+the+Ernest+Borgnine+Theatre

Photo by Caught In The Moment Photography

From left: Deborah Robin (Doris Day) and Zach Appel (Narrator/Man) in Day After Day at the Ernest Borgnine Theatre

“Watch it, hey, I’m Doris Day / I was not brought up that way.”

These lyrics that Rizzo sings to make fun of the virginal Sandy in the musical Grease were all I knew of Doris Day growing up. Then I saw an old Hitchcock film in which Day sings “Que Sera Sera.” And that was pretty much all I knew of Day– an actress from back in the day (as it were) who seems to have had a reputation for chasteness.

But did you know that Day was married, not once or twice, but four times? And that she was a hugely popular singer during the 1940s and 50s, well before her equally successful film career from the 1950s to 60s? And that she even had her own TV show?

I knew none of that until I saw P3 Theatre Company’s Day After Day (The Life and Music of Doris Day) at the Ernest Borgnine Theatre in Long Beach. Continuing through Feb. 22, this two-person, three-member-band musical by Tony Santamauro highlights Day’s life, songs, films and marriages in what P3 calls “a love letter to this extraordinary icon.”

Key to its success are the talented leads, Deborah Robin as Day and Zach Appel as a narrator who also portrays the men Day worked and sang with over the years. Robin absolutely shines in her role, fully inhabiting Day’s perky demeanor and delicious voice from her early years as a big-band singer and top recording star– beginning with “Sentimental Journey” after World War II– through to her movie roles opposite leading men such as Rock Hudson, Cary Grant and James Garner.

At least 20 outfit changes (beautifully designed by Christie Mauro-Cohen) allow Robin to transform from a blond teenage Day singing on the radio and traveling with the Les Brown Band to a glamorous stage and film vocalist and actress as the years– and her success– quickly progressed.

Appel is phenomenal narrating Day’s life and performing the various male roles surrounding her, not least because of his excellent articulation and extremely strong vocal talents of his own. The pair work harmoniously and precisely together, including singing the weirdly catchy “A Bushel and a Peck” and performing a rousing rendition of the vocally challenging “There Once Was a Man” from The Pajama Game.

Accompanying the pair on stage are stellar musicians Elizabeth Curtin on piano, Anthony Barbarotta on drums and Ernie Nunez on bass, who play everything from the big-band sounds and film and musical scores to a jazz song for which Day was also known.

The ever-humble Day says at one point in the show that if she’s a star, “everyone’s a star.” In real life, Day passed away in May of last year, at the age of 97. There is probably no more fitting tribute than this production to appreciate her life and especially her music. If you are a fan, you will love every note. And if, like me, you don’t know much about her, you’ll not only come away educated but also enriched by the talented team behind Day After Day.

Day After Day continues at the Ernest Borgnine Theatre in the Long Beach Scottish Rite Event Center, 855 Elm Ave., Long Beach, through Feb. 22, with shows Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm, Sundays at 2pm., plus Thurs., Feb. 20 at 8pm. Tickets are $25 to $35. For tickets, call (800) 595-4849 or visit p3theatre.biz.