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A CurtainUp London London Review
A Sentimental Journey

You can go to extremes with impossible schemes
You can laugh when your dreams fall apart at the seams
And life gets more exciting with each passing day
And love is either in your heart or on its way
— Lyrics from "Young at Heart"
A Sentimental Journey
Glyn Kerslake, Mark Halliday and Sally Hughes as Doris Day (Photo: Elliott Franks)
In the same week as we get Andrew Lloyd Webber's overblown musical opening, we have a delightfully small scale musical coming into Wilton's Music Hall in London's East End from The Mill at Sonning. The Artistic Director of the little dinner theatre, Sally Hughes, plays the girl of whom Oscar Levant quipped, "I knew Doris Day before she became a virgin."

Young writer Adam Ralston has chosen Doris' only child, her son Terry Melcher (Ian McLarnon), as the narrator of her career. Her life story, through her four marriages, forms the basis for the musical and the musical numbers blend in remarkably well with the storyline, maybe because so many of the songs of that era were about love and romance which featured strongly in her own biography.

We first meet Doris in the context of her family. the Kappelhoffs — German immigrants to Cincinnatti Ohio, William and Alma (Mark Halliday and Elizabeth Elvin). Doris lives through the marital break up of her parents before she starts a dancing career cut short by a car accident which finds her instead turning to singing. We laugh as Doris' mother gives her advice about her future and we realise she is speaking the lyrics of "Que sera, sera" before they both join in singing the classic song.

Doris' first marriage to local trombonist Al Jorden was an abusive relationship. She left Jorden with the birth of their son Terry which also gives us the opportunity to hear her sing "Pretty Baby" with three other singers wearing oversized baby bonnets. Doris went straight back to working with a band and her mother cared for Terry. A second marriage to George Weidler sees her moving to California but that marriage lasted less than a year.

The second act opens with songs from Calamity Jane and has Doris marry her agent Marty Melcher (Mark Halliday) who adopts Terry. Doris is now at the height of her film career. By 1954 she's been in 15 motion pictures. "Secret Love" and "The Deadwood Stage" from Calamity Jane are instant crowd pleasers. In fact, the makeshift Deadwood stage is driven round the auditorium! "Move Over Darling" is sung by the press hounds as a parody of the journalists' hounding of Doris' private life.

A live four person band plays the music onstage in view at the rear of the simple set. Doris' dresses are versions of the classic fit and flare with increasingly luxurious fabrics. The cast of just five work amazingly hard and sing their hearts out to build this feel good, charming evening. Sally Hughes, not only looks like Doris Day, she is pretty, blonde and bubbly. She sings strongly and has Doris' "girl next door" smiley personality. The casting is remarkable. I loved Glyn Kerslake as Frank Sinatra singing "Young at Heart" and was wowed by Ian McLarnon's "These Days". "Sentimental Journey" tops and tails the show.

The show covers the many problems Doris faced: the unhappy marriages, the financial investment scam and about being signed for shows she didn't want to make, and the tragic death from skin cancer of her music producer son Terry. She now lives near Carmel California involved in animal charities and the closing scene has a beautiful spaniel joining "Doris" onstage for a perfect ending.

For those who don't know it, Wilton's is an historic Victorian music hall venue with bare brick walls and crumbling plaster but what it lacks in modern decor it more than makes up for in period atmosphere and a warm welcome. It has a bar and serves good food.

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A Sentimental Journey
by Adam Rolston
Directed by Alvin Rakoff

Starring: Sally Hughes, Ian McLarnon, Mark Halliday, Elizabeth Elvin, Glyn Kerslake
Choreographer: Joseph Pitcher
Set: Eileen Diss
Musical Director/Arranger: Jo Stewart
Orchestrations: David Cullen and Andrew Lloyd Webber
Costume Design: Jane Kidd
Hair and wigs: Richard Mawbey
Lighting: Filippo de Capitani
Sound: Mary Stone
Running time: Two hours 20 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 020 7702 2789
Booking to 4th April 2010
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 12th March 2010 at Wilton's Music Hall, Graces Alley, off Ensign Street, Tower Hill, London E1 8FB (Tube: Tower Hill and then a 12 minute walk)
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Sentimental Journey
  • Papa Won't You Dance With Me
  • Que Sera Sera
  • Tea For Two
  • Day by Day
  • Canadian Capers
  • Enjoy Yourself
  • Let's Take an Old Fashioned Walk
  • At Last
  • Pretty Baby
  • Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps
  • You Ought to be in Pictures
  • It's Magic
  • Love Me or Leave Me
Act Two
  • The Deadwood Stage
  • Secret Love
  • Move Over Darling
  • Young at Heart
  • Dream A Little Dream
  • It's Been a Long, Long Time
  • It Could Happen to You
  • Ain't We Got Fun
  • These Days
  • With A Song in my Heart
  • Glad To Be Unhappy
  • Sentimental Journey
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