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Doris Day musical role came at the right time for Linda Kash

ON STAGE What: Day After Day Where: The Roxy Theatre, 2657 Quadra St. When : Tuesday Aug. 3 through Sunday Aug. 8 Tickets : $30 from bluebridgetheatre.
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Linda Kash, who plays Doris Day in the upcoming Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre production, rehearses a scene from Day After Day with music director Don Horsburgh. HANDOUT

ON STAGE

What: Day After Day
Where: The Roxy Theatre, 2657 Quadra St.
When: Tuesday Aug. 3 through Sunday Aug. 8
Tickets: $30 from bluebridgetheatre.ca

Linda Kash received a call from director Brian Richmond several months ago, who said he had an intriguing job offer for the stage and screen veteran.

Richmond wanted the Montreal native to play Doris Day in a one-woman play set to have its world premiere at Victoria’s Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre, and asked if she was available in early August for the eight-performance run.

After checking her schedule, Kash couldn’t believe the serendipitous turn of events. “Before Brian asked me to do this, I had already rented an Airbnb in Ucluelet, so I was planning to come here anyways with my kids,” Kash said Tuesday from a Victoria hotel room. “It was really strange.”

Kash’s vacation schedule was such that preparation for the role was going to be rushed, but she gladly accepted the offer to star in Day After Day. Fate intervened once again, during one of her trips between Victoria and Ucluelet for rehearsals. “I didn’t know that there was a [highway] pass that was closed from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., for blasting. I got there at 1 p.m., so for two hours I was in a 100-car wait to get through this pass. Lucky for me, I had 1,000 lines to learn so I was fine. It was fortuitous.”

Kash’s debut as the iconic actor and singer arrives Tuesday at The Roxy Theatre, where Day After Day will run until Aug. 8. Blue Bridge will end its topsy-turvy 2020/2021 season with this gem by Victoria playwright Sarah Murphy, who uses a fictionalized account of a concert given by Day in the summer of 1968 as the focal point of the action.

During the course of the concert, Kash takes audiences through parts of Day’s incredible 80-year career, and all the emotional ups and downs she endured.

“There’s more to Doris Day than you think you know,” she said. “When you take on something like this, it’s a personal challenge. It’s a bit of an Everest climb.”

Kash has had plenty of experience where one-woman performances are concerned, including a 2019 turn as sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer in a Toronto production of Becoming Dr. Ruth. That is one of several singular performances on her résumé, including her most famous role — that of an angel in TV commercials for Kraft’s Philadelphia Cream Cheese.

She played the character with mischievous glee from 1994 to 2011, before passing her wings on to a new actor. The cream cheese angel is the role for which she is best known, but other appearances stand out, including her appearance on Seinfeld, in which she played George Costanza’s girlfriend. It was during The Lip Reader episode, with Oscar winner Marlee Matlin, that Kash delivers one of the series’ standout punchlines, the now-infamous quip, “It’s not you, it’s me.”

As the daughter of Canadian opera singer Maureen Forrester, Kash has always had something of a leg up on her contemporaries, especially where music-related roles are concerned. She was surrounded by music growing up, and with her mother’s influence, grew to embrace the unpredictability of life on stage and in front of a camera — much in the same way as Day.

“That element of the story I relate to so much,” Kash said.

She didn’t attempt to mimic the singing of Day, whose exceptional range, tone and vibrato would have been difficult to render. She focused on giving the audience “an idea” of what the Cincinnati product, who died in 2019, sounded like on stage, above and beyond her signature hits, Que Sera, Sera and Sentimental Journey.

“More than anything, the songs which she sang were absolutely beautiful. It’s paying tribute to an era of music as much as to how she sang.”

Day’s reputation is immense, which makes for good theatre. At alternating points, she was among the most profitable singers and actors in the entertainment business, and scored an Academy Award nomination for best actress in 1960. She also earned two Grammy Award nominations, before receiving the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.

Not everything made the cut, however. Day After Day stops in 1969, before some of her well-known pursuits, such as her animal activism, were embraced by the entertainment industry at large. But audiences will come away with a sense of who she was as a person, not simply as a performer, Kash said.

“Many people in that echelon, we think we know who they are, and we truly don’t. She was the top-grossing entertainer in the world for 10 years, before she lost everything. It’s nuts to think about what she lost and what she re-gained eventually. She was sweet and happy-go-lucky, and probably very agreeable, but she paid for that image.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com