Having a Doris Day 

There’s a breathless yet buoyant quality to conversation with Nellie McKay. A touch of Monroe wrapped in Doris Day optimism.

The latter is particularly apt as McKay — pronounced “Mc-Eye” — will perform a concert based on her recent Day-themed CD for one night at the Great American Music Hall on Monday.

The recording is called “Normal as Blueberry Pie” — from a lyric in “South Pacific” — and is McKay’s fourth release since her debut album in 2004.

During this time she also made her film debut and starred on Broadway in a 2006 revival of “Threepenny Opera” opposite Alan Cumming and Cyndi Lauper.

“My career has been mismanaged by me with great skill,” she laughs. “I keep saying that I want to do this or I want to do that.”

“Pie” was a departure from her normal duties as both singer and songwriter — it contains only one McKay original — yet she found the process of culling Day’s prodigious catalog down to a dozen tracks daunting.

“It was agony. There is so much, and so much that is so good. There was a lot that I was almost relieved to find I could not sing, because Doris sang some very difficult material. There were also many that I wish we’d recorded but I really just could not put out another double-album at this point.”

Day became an icon for McKay based on a random teenage CD purchase.

They’ve never met, but the young singer interviewed the legendary and reclusive star in 2006. “She was just so charming, warm and lovely,” remembers McKay. “People don’t realize how many different styles she recorded, from big band to standards and musicals. I hope this inspires people to really revisit her work.”

The two also share a passion for animal rights, which McKay sees as a possibly under-appreciated aspect of the Day legacy. “I think people see her as only a retro figure, yet her work on behalf of animals was very ahead of its time.” In a nod to this, Bessie and Hank, McKay’s rescued pit bulls, appear on the cover of the CD.

London-born and raised in Pennsylvania, McKay has some Bay Area roots. “My mom grew up there and I always hear John Phillips’ song in my head when we visit!”

While her show here will be mostly Doris, she offers longtime fans that “if there’s a request that somebody wants to shout out and we have time, we’ll do it!”

Nellie McKay

Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Monday
Tickets: $21
Contact: (888) 233-0449; www.gamhtickets.com

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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