The Court Theatre, Bernard Street, Addington, Christchurch

24/04/2016 - 08/05/2016

SIT Centrestage Theatre, Invercargill

11/05/2016 - 11/05/2016

4th Wall Theatre, New Plymouth

20/05/2016 - 21/05/2016

Clarence Street Theatre, Hamilton

27/05/2016 - 28/05/2016

Regent On Broadway, Palmerston North

10/07/2016 - 10/07/2016

Baycourt - Addison Theatre, Tauranga

04/05/2017 - 04/05/2017

Circa Two, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

16/09/2017 - 14/10/2017

Sundays only

Production Details

With her bubbly personality, lilting voice and blonde beauty, Doris Day was America’s singing sweetheart of the silver screen during the 1950s and 1960s. 

Doris was for many years ranked as the #1 female box office star in the world with such hit songs as Sentimental Journey, Secret Love and Que Sera Sera.

2016 Performance dates:

Sundays 24th April, 1st May, 8th May @ 2.30pm & 7.30pm

Wednesday 11th May

Friday 20th May, Saturday 21st May (including a matinee)

Friday 27th May, 28th May (including a matinee)

Sunday 10 July 2016, 4pm 

“Ali Harper is a New Zealand national treasure.  She is the country’s outstanding female musical theatre performer…” – Kurt Ganzl, Kurt of Gerolstein – October 2016


Taupo – Great Lake Centre, Wednesday 3 May 2017

Tauranga – Baycourt Addison Theatre, Thursday 4 May 2017

Thames – War Memorial Civic Centre, Friday 5 May 2017

Takapuna – Bruce Mason Centre, Saturday 13 May and Sunday 14May 2017

CIRCA TWO, 1 Taranaki Street, Wellington  
16 Sept – 14 Oct 2017
Tues – Sat 7.30, Sun 4.30
Election Day matinee (Sat 23rd Sept) 4.30
Ticket prices $25 – $46
BOOKINGS  04 801 7992 circa.co.nz

Visit this link to hear Ali singing to Doris Day at Doris’s 94th Birthday celebrations in Carmel-by-the-Sea in April 2016 


Set and Lighting Designer – Brendan Albrey
Costume design – Ali Harper
Music Tracks – Big Band Conducted by Rodger Fox 
Backing Vocalists from NASDA 

Circa season 2017
SET DESIGN:  Brendan Albrey/Richard Van den Berg  
VOICEOVER ACTORS:  Michael Keir-Morrisey, Ravil Atlas, Stephanie McKellar-Smith, Tom Trevella, Phil Vaughan
PUBLICIST:  Colleen McColl
PHOTOGRAPHY:  Emma Brittenden
‘Choo Choo Train’ ANIMATION:  Anoob Chandran
VIDEOGRAPHERS:  Bix Zhang, Alex Shaw, John Kane, Michael Bell, Charlotte Crone
VIDEO EDITING:  Charlotte Crone
HOUSE MANAGER:  Suzanne Blackburn
BOX OFFICE MANAGER:  Eleanor Strathern  

Theatre , Solo , Musical ,

Beautiful, quirky, gutsy

Review by Jo Hodgson 18th Sep 2017

“Gonna take a sentimental journey,
 Gonna set my heart at ease,
 Gonna make a sentimental journey,
 To renew old memories…” 

I have to admit I know very little about Doris Day. While I have sung and heard many of the songs from her prolific recording collection, I’ve never really thought about who she is and her life story. Luckily for us, songstress Ali Harper has.

Its 1971 – the set is ready: a trellised patio with white outdoor furniture, a large TV set and a rack of colourful costumes. Cameras focus in while the crew prepare the studio for recording and prime us – the studio audience – for the treat to come that is A Doris Day Special.

Ali Harper’s Doris Day enters, dressed in 50s-style sunflower yellow. Her smile beams and eyes shine as she sings ‘Everybody Loves a Lover’ by Adler and Allen. The audience seems to collectively sigh with a feeling of ‘home’ and recollection.  “Hello, from my heart to yours,” she greets us and the story begins …

Doris Day was born Doris Mary Anne Kappelhoff in 1922 in Cincinatti, Ohio. An early love and promise for dance was cut short in 1937 when a car accident seriously injured her leg. While she was recuperating, she discovered a love of singing and began to have lessons with Grace Raine. 

By fifteen, she was regularly performing and touring with big bands, had changed her name to Doris Day and by seventeen was married and pregnant to trombonist Al Jordan whom she describes as a ‘psychopathic sadist’ who made her life hell and eventually took his own.  

Ali captivates us with her take on Doris’s story and as it unfolds, we discover a woman with a huge love of life, positivity and a “Lucky Me – if it’s meant to be then it will be” kind of attitude, in spite of some heart-breaking tragedies along the way. 

She serenades us with over 20 songs interspersed with life anecdotes about not conforming to fashion, such as, “Put on your body only that which looks good on your body”! And some hilarious commercial breaks for things like Doris Day’s Doggie Delights (she is a dog lover and animal rights activist too).

How the specific songs from the hundreds of possibilities are chosen I don’t know.

They range from the devastatingly beautiful, like ‘Secret Love’ and ‘It’s Magic’, to quirky numbers like ‘I Said My Pyjamas and Put On My Prayers’ and ‘Ooh! Bang! Jiggilly Jang!’ (with some classic Harper audience participation resulting in many laughs) and of course the gutsy theatrical numbers like ‘Just Blew In From The Windy City’ (although in the last few days it could have been ‘to the windy city’!) that made Doris Day famous in movies such as Calamity Jane.  

Even though this is a one woman show – there are many others who have taken this ‘Sentimental Journey’ to put on this production. The superb combined vision of Ali and director Stephanie McKellar-Smith with set designers Brendan Abrey/Richard Van den Berg to realise her dream. The fabulous musical arrangements by Michael Bell brought to life by expert musicians under the baton of Rodger Fox and recorded by Orange Studio. The wonderful, and often humorous graphics on the screen which adds to the illusion of this live studio show being broadcast further afield.

Particularly clever are the ‘as if in real time’ visuals of the band playing (and singing!) with Doris and a group of male dancers (from NASDA) providing the cinematic top hat and tails backing dancers in ‘Shaking the Blues Away’.

But on the night it’s Circa’s talented tech operator Deb McGuire who has to seamlessly bring all these elements together to support Ali’s stunning performance.

Ali Harper really is an NZ treasure in the performance world. Her effervescent energy and character draw the audience in and carry us along. Her voice soars and caresses these old songs superbly. This music fits her voice like a glove – she embodies the essence of Doris Day that so many know and love for the entire duration of this show and to me it seems that she also lives with a similar ethos as the now 95 year old Doris Day – one of let bygones be bygones and ‘Que Sera Sera’. 


Make a comment

Charming and touching

Review by Robert Gilbert 05th May 2017

I’m probably a bigger fan of Ali Harper than I ever was of Doris Day. However, there is something reassuringly wholesome and uplifting about Doris Day. As a kid, I recall watching old reruns of The Doris Day Show on television, and many old films like Calamity Jane, The Pajama Game, Pillow Talk and The Man Who Knew Too Much.

As a grown-up though, I have often been enthralled by Ali Harper’s performances across a range of genres. I recall her thoroughly convincing Russian dance instructor, Natasha, in Roger Hall’s A Shortcut to Happiness, which relaunched the Court Theatre in Christchurch post-earthquake. And I will never forget the gripping pathos she conjured as Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers.

But for me, it was Bombshells by Joanne Murray-Smith that provided a vehicle to showcase her extraordinary acting versatility, and Legendary Divas which unfailingly demonstrated her magnificent ability to engage an audience though song. It’s almost as if A Doris Day Special is the third part of a rather glorious trilogy of Harper’s capacity to delight and entertain in solo stage shows.

Director, Stephanie McKellar-Smith, has harnessed the best of Ali Harper in this self-penned tribute to one of America’s sublime screen stars. Clever technology is utilised to support, embolden and enhance the premise that we are the studio audience of the taping of The Doris Day Special.

Like Doris Day, Harper is a chanteuse with impeccable comic timing, a sparkling smile, and an endearing persona. She commands the stage with such confidence that we are drawn into The Doris Day Special as willing contributors to the sugary sweet, clean living, all-American dream girl. 

Ali Harper is always in full control of her voice. Her singing is unaffected, direct, and sweet. She has flawless breath control, and her diction and dynamic control are faultless. Michael Bell arranges and guides a pre-recorded big-band led by Roger Fox, with backing vocals by students from the National Academy of Singing and Dramatic Art (NASDA). Each seamless facet supports Harper who makes it all sound, and look, deceptively effortless.

One gets the sense that this production is more than just a platform to show off Harper’s obvious talents. Rather it has the hallmarks of an especially reverent homage.  Ali Harper’s love of Doris Day is evident as she relives the highs and lows of a woman who lived in simpler times. A Doris Day Special is a charming and touching evening of song and dance, and is a more than welcome reminder of the goodness of the human spirit. 


Make a comment


Review by John C Ross 11th Jul 2016

Could anyone from within a certain age-range not be charmed, cheered and greatly chuffed by Ali Harper’s renditions of a selection of hit-songs and glimpses of the career of the American singing and film star of the 1950s and ’60s, Doris Day? It’s unlikely. Sunday’s audience, largely grey-haired, white-haired or no-haired, clearly enjoyed this revelling in nostalgia.

Ostensibly the show is framed as a ‘television special’ with Doris herself as herself, intermittent pre-recorded talk by the television production crew as voice-over (which must have demanded very clever timing for the actual performance), and the theatre audience as the studio audience.  The big-band-music and occasional backing-singing have also been pre-recorded, with musical arrangements by Michael Bell and musical directing by Rodger Fox.

The set includes a visual screen mid-centre and there are pre-recorded visuals. The touring production was launched in Christchurch, where all this recording took place. So although it features a live single performer, a quite large crowd have been involved in mounting it.

Still, a solo performance is a big ask, especially in a fairly big theatre like the Regent. It opens with ‘Everybody Loves a Lover’ with the message that “I love everybody” and “everybody loves me!” It takes Ali Harper a couple of minutes to get into her stride but after that she is away, fully assured, in good voice, and sharing her enjoyment. The magic does its work for the rest of the show.

As Ali’s Doris Day tells us, she was born in 1924, in Cincinnati, Ohio, christened Doris Mary Ann Von Kappelhoff, and settling upon a less inappropriate stage name was clearly quite a comedy – Doris Kappel? No! Doris Kap? Still no! And she’s still going strong, in Carmel, California, at the age of ninety-two, as an animal welfare activist.

Her hopes of becoming a professional dancer were dashed, in her teens, by serious leg injuries in a car accident and she took up singing instead, touring with a band. In 1945 she came to Hollywood and had starring roles, involving singing, in a number of movies between 1948 and 1968, followed by a television programme, The Doris Day Show, through to 1973, after which she released some more songs, as singles or within albums.

Professionally she did rather well, and co-starred with the likes of Rock Hudson, Cary Grant, Sinatra, and other big names. Contrary to all her songs about love, her personal life has been rockier, with none of her four marriages proving “happy ever after”. Her first husband turned into “a psychopathological sadist”, her second divorced quickly, her third died, and her fourth gave up after five years trying to compete with all the dogs she was looking after. So that’s the bones of the life-story we get told, in a consistent Californian accent (with a touch of Ohio?). 

To the songs then. ‘Sentimental Journey’ through to ‘Que Sera, Sera’ (‘Whatever Will Be Will Be), with plenty of variety in tone between, between heavily sentimental through to light-heartedly amusing – including picking out and bringing two audience-members on-stage, to contribute to a humorous rendition of ‘My Bonny Lies Over the Ocean’.  They’re all sung with a warm, strong voice.

The set includes a well-crowded costume rack, and Ali goes behind it for three quick costume-changes, to fit the tone of the songs, including a leathery pants-suit for ‘I Just Blew in from the Windy City’. 

Ali Harper has an impressive track-record as a singer and performer, and it shows.


Make a comment

Effervescent and endearing

Review by Holly Shanahan 22nd May 2016

Ali Harper brings the joy and glee of Doris Day to life in this beautifully nostalgic one woman show about the life of Doris Mary Ann von Kappelhoff or, as we know her, the sweetheart singer and movie star of the 40s, 50s and 60s: Doris Day. 

Framed as a TV special set in the 70s, Harper takes us on a nostalgic turn through Doris’ life and career. A large central television, a rack of colourful costumes and a patio seating area give us the set for her special performance, and the workings of the studio are played out in voiceover during commercial breaks.   

Harper has all the effervescence that made Doris Day such a ray of sunshine. She embodies the ‘natural zing’ of a woman who loved joy, and who just “want(ed) to smile and make people happy.” A passionate fan herself, Harper never loses her smile, and with an audience made up of mostly older fans, there is thunderous applause at the end of each number (and even a little spontaneous hollering from the older crowd!).

The show’s strengths are part infectious positivity, and part Harper’s stunning voice and sensitive renditions of Day’s songs. Her tone is faultless and the restraint in earlier numbers such as ‘Sentimental Journey’ and ‘Everybody Loves a Lover’ is sublime. She belts out the bigger musical numbers with gusto and draws us in one-on-one to the quiet numbers, such as ‘Secret Love’. 

The soundscape and visuals on screen are well thought out and put together, providing voices and images that create a bigger cast of characters than just Harper. The sound is almost like a Hollywood movie soundtrack, with atmospheric music underneath the ‘breaks’ where we get to see a more honest side of Day. There are a few moments I feel are a little loud, but on the whole it adds to the nostalgia. Breaking to silence following the moment Day talks about her son and their connection to Charles Manson make it pointed and moving. 

Whenever Day starts to reminisce or take us into darker territory it is always undercut with a sudden break back to song or something cheerful, which highlights her positive outlook and beliefs. Through all of her personal adversity – failed marriages, the accident which ended her aspirations of becoming a professional dancer, having a child so young – her spirit never diminished. 

The sequence where she speaks with the images of past movie co-stars and lovers is a charming touch, as is a moment where Harper ‘disappears’ into real footage of Day on one of her shows.   

This show would be great to take not only to theatres, but to RSAs and community halls. Likewise, it could be expanded to a larger work, with a full cast of television crew, and have the performance actually filmed live on a working set.   

While Harper’s accent is faultless, the accents on the recording leave a little to be desired. Slightly more old-fashioned lighting, some rustling from the dogs in the costume rack and some more dancing would add a bit of extra magic.

The response from the crowd, with a hearty sing-a-long and question and answer session, shows how many memories people have of Doris Day and how endearing this little show is. I know it will entertain crowds in all areas of NZ.  


Make a comment

Entertaining, informative, moving and funny

Review by Jane Milne 12th May 2016

On entering the theatre I know of Doris Day and a few of her songs but not much else; on leaving I’ve had an intimate audience with her and know her inner loves, demons and many more fabulous songs.  

Ali Harper charms as Doris Day. Oozing personality and character we are taken on a journey of Doris Day’s life. From emotional songs with depth and feeling to whimsical songs splashing fun and laughter around the stage and audience, Ali Harper’s voice as Doris Day stays strong and amazing.

She transitions between the songs with interesting stories both emotional and funny in a fabulous lilting American accent. The stage is set up as television studio from 1971 with a Retro Television and a white wrought iron table and chairs found in the back yard of many a grandparent.

Ali as Doris Day enters the stage shinning in a gorgeous 1970s yellow dress singing beautifully Everybody Loves a Lover.  The audience is smiling and tapping our feet.  From this great opening scene we are taken on an enchanting tale of Doris Day’s very interesting and extraordinary life. As the camera rolls we see the Doris Day the world knows and loves and during breaks in filming we are gifted glimpses into her inner soul and struggles.  

Tales are told about her love of dancing and how breaking her leg led her into a life of singing, living a life on the road as 16 year old watching people her age at their Proms enjoying being teenagers, four failed marriages, being in the movies, her leading men, motherhood and being a proud dog owner of many a rescued dog.

The tales are peppered with songs sung beautifully, Ali is Doris Day in singing strength and presence, ‘Sentimental Journey’, ‘Whole World is Singing my Song’, ‘Shaking the Blues Away’, ‘I Said my Pajamas and Put on my Prayers’, ‘Just Blew in from the Windy City’, ‘Secret Love’, ‘It’s Magic’, ‘Make Someone Happy’, ‘Oh Bang Jiggily Jang’ (here we are treated to some hilarious audience participation with two gentlemen on a bell and horn, Ali as Doris conducts brilliantly doing well to field a sly kiss from one Gentlemen),‘If I had to live my life over’.

Costume changes happen right on stage behind a rail of fabulous looking outfits as the tales continue to flow, useful life knowledge is imparted to the audience – “Put only on your body what looks good on your body” – and interactions with her dogs are cause for raucous laughter.

We are treated to two more gorgeous gowns a beautiful blue number and an absolutely stunning green dress and a fun Calamity Jane cowgirl outfit.  The Retro TV is brilliantly used to show photos from Doris Days past, the big band and her dog Molly.

Ali wrote A Doris Day Special, which I have the highest admiration for given that, like me, she is the mother to two young boys. The show is entertaining, informative, moving and funny. As Doris Day herself said, “I like joy; I want to be joyous; I want to smile and I want to make people laugh. And that’s all I want. I like being happy. I want to make others happy.” 

Ali has honoured Doris Day in making us laugh and be happy.  However she has also respected the other side of Doris Day’s life; the one filled with very real human emotions and struggles, a side that brings on some tears.

To end we join Ali as Doris Day to sing Que Sera Sera which believe me is normally no easy task for the shy people of the south, but one that Ali as Doris Day with her big personality, star like qualities yet still humble character achieves.   

On leaving the theatre into the foyer the crowd is buzzing from the brilliant show. The gentlemen who were invited on stage still look giddy about it. Ali’s husband Iain Cave is selling CDs of her music including the Doris Day Special. He is rightly so proud of her and very passionate. Ali joins him at the table in a brilliant frock patterned with Doris Day Movie pictures in cartoon style.  She is just as gorgeous at this level as on stage and every bit the star, yet very approachable talking to audience members and signing CDs.

Play the CD loudly and sing as you drive home, it has been a fantastic night at the Doris Day Special!


Make a comment

Day’s aspirations outstandingly well served

Review by Lindsay Clark 25th Apr 2016

Ali Harper is no stranger to the stage at The Court Theatre, at home in both musical theatre and straight drama. She is never more engaging than when combining dramatic and musical possibilities to the delight of her enthusiastic home crowd, though applause and awards have followed her as far as New York. The freshness and hallmark spontaneity of this immensely gifted performer are a charmed match for the music and personality of the fabled Doris Day.

Any word-association exercise would surely suggest ‘sunshine’ for both performers. Brendan Albrey’s lighting and stage set up agrees, with its bright al fresco /patio arrangement, as part of a television studio mock up. There’s a large screen at centre, where appropriate images and titles will be displayed, for we are the studio audience of a seventies Doris Day television show, complete with big band accompaniment. 

This is provided by recorded performance led by the acclaimed Rodger Fox, arranged and produced by Michael Bell of the enterprising Orange Studios. Vocal backing is contributed by students from NASDA, so all up we are to be treated to a generously conceived show.

At the centre, of course, is the indefatigable and super-charged talent of Ali Harper. Her range and conviction has the audience in delighted thrall. The artful arrangement is tied together by snippets of Day’s life story, but it is the songs themselves, some classy choreography by Kirsty Allpress-Goudie and a sense of warm engagement with every soul in the auditorium which characterise the production. References to the canine buddies backstage prepares the ground neatly for a closing image of the now 92 year old star, whose work for animal rights has preoccupied her later years.

For a start, the signature sunshiny mood is cast by a perky rendering of ‘Everybody Loves a Lover’,then effectively contrasted with sweet nostalgia in the equally popular ‘Sentimental Journey’. We have a quick trip through the early days of Doris Mary Ann von Kappelhoff, including an account of the accident which ended her dreams of becoming a professional dancer but opened the way to her musical life and stardom. Her story is marked out for us by the well-loved songs.

The film Calamity Jane offers up a couple of beauties, but all are well chosen and rendered for us with the spirited application which thrills fans of this performer again and again. Audience participation, when it comes along, feels like the natural outcome of a happy celebration. 

Doris Day’s aspiration to be joyous and to make others happy too is outstandingly well served by Ali Harper’s own interpretation and personality. Add this to her glorious vocal ability and there is the recipe for a highly successful evening’s entertainment. 


Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council