The life and music of Hollywood legend Doris Day is celebrated in new show Secret Love, which starts its UK tour in Kent this week. Kathryn Tye spoke to its star and creator Claudia Morris.
Doris Day is known the world over as the clean-cut, innocent blonde with a smile in her voice. But in reality, the Hollywood star’s life was far from a fairy tale, with abusive husbands, financial disasters and the loss of her only son.
And that stark contrast provides a dramatic backdrop for new show Secret Love, created by and starring London-based jazz singer Claudia Morris.
Claudia was first introduced to Doris’s work a few years ago by a pianist who recognised a similar tone in their voices.
Doris Day in Calamity Jane
She said: “He suggested I try singing some of her songs, so I started performing them at gigs, and they were always the ones that got the biggest response.
“Last year EastEnders actress Tracy-Ann Oberman happened to see me perform, and asked me to impersonate Doris in a Radio 4 play she had written, titled Rock and Doris and Elizabeth. They were all very excited by my performance, and it got me thinking, maybe I should take this seriously.
“I went out and got Doris’ biography, which just blew me away, and I thought I would just love to tell her story.”
An experienced West End performer, Claudia decided to draw upon her musical theatre background to create a show about Doris’ life, rather than just singing her songs.
She said: “I commissioned a writer and said these are the songs I want to sing, write me a show about her life, and everything has gone from there.”
Although primarily a one-woman show, Secret Love also features two male actors who play the significant men in Doris’s life, and a live band.
Claudia said: “There are moments when I am in character talking to the audience, then I am in a scene with the two actors. It is more about taking the audience on a journey through Doris’ life and work. You want the audience to imagine they can see and hear her, but it isn’t a full scale impersonation. I’m not wearing a blonde wig, for example. And, though there will be moments of imitation, I will also offer my take on the music.”
There are 23 songs in the show, including Secret Love, Love Me or Leave Me, Perhaps Perhaps, Sentimental Journey and Que Sera Sera, and Claudia has been busy learning dance routines for some of the up-tempo numbers, something the mum-of-three confesses to finding hard work.
She said: “I have three children, aged 19, 17, and seven, and the schedule is crazy. I am rehearsing every single day, which I don’t normally do, then I get back and have to cook dinner. I’m knackered!
Doris Day in Do Not Disturb with Rod Taylor
“I did West End theatre over 20 years ago before I had my children, so it is a big change for me. But I seem to be rising to the challenge. I spent the whole day dancing yesterday with these guys who are much younger than me, and it was really fun.”
The show will make its debut at Dartford’s Orchard Theatre, before going on a 20-date UK tour. Claudia hopes it will not only prove popular with fans but also introduce a new audience to Doris’ work.
She said: “Doris may have enjoyed her heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, but I think this show has a much bigger appeal than just the grey market. I didn’t grow up with her, but once I was introduced to her music and films I was hooked, and the guys in the show who are in their 20s and 30s all love her too.
“Doris had such a fascinating life that it is a brilliant source of material for a show.”
Secret Love will be at Dartford’s Orchard Theatre on Wednesday, September 25. It starts at 2.30pm and tickets are £15. Call 01322 220000.