Donna McKechnie records her new album in London

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Donna McKechnie at the London recording of her CD Same Place, Another Time. Picture: Roy Tan

Same Place, Another Time is Tony Award-winning actress Donna McKechnie’s latest cabaret act. Michael Darvell reports from the CD recording of the show for Jay Records (while, below, Patrick Honore catches up with the actress post-performance).

Any musical cabaret fan who saw Donna McKechnie performing her new show in New York or at the Crazy Coqs in London in April this year will want to own the CD of the show to be released by Jay Records. I was lucky enough to be part of the invited audience for the recording at London’s Angel Studios and I have to say that it was one of the best afternoons I have enjoyed in years. Famous for creating the role of Cassie in the original Broadway production of A Chorus Line, McKechnie imbues whatever she has done with immense passion, emotion and irrepressible good humour. This came through at the recording session and will surely shine through on the CD.

Same Place, Another Time is a personal biographical trip through the ups and downs of McKechnie’s life and career, but without the usual cabaret repertoire and the inevitable ‘and then I sang’ routine. This is a totally original show and it’s all the better for it. The actress was influenced at the age of eight by the film of The Red Shoes which made her want to be a ballet dancer – in Michigan! At 17 she moved to New York, hoping to join the American Ballet Theatre. That didn’t happen, but, after doing Carousel in summer stock, she joined a tour of West Side Story and in 1961 finally reached Broadway in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Later she joined the cast of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and subsequently Promises, Promises, with choreography by Michael Bennett, which led to her collaboration with him again on Stephen Sondheim’s Company in New York, Los Angeles and London. Their relationship eventually led to A Chorus Line in which her role as Cassie earned her a Tony Award.

For Same Place, Another Time, the elegant McKechnie begins with a rendition of Rodgers and Hart’s song ‘Where or When?’ Reminiscing about her arrival in New York in the 1970s, she recalls the fashionable clientele and the not so celebrated punters who frequented Studio 54, the chic nightclub and disco where you could meet the Jaggers, Mick and Bianca, Andy Warhol, Grace Jones et al cheek by jowl with New York’s nobodies.

She started in a dump apartment but eventually found her way onto Broadway. Some fame and some fortune followed. She claims that writers and divorce were the two most important things in her life, but with New York City she has had a lasting relationship. It may be an on-off situation with the Big Apple, as she sings Portia Nelson’s song ‘I’m in Hate/Love with New York’, but she knows where her heart really is and it’s certainly not back in Michigan.

McKechnie illustrates various times in her life with appropriate songs to suit the situation. For the schizophrenic way of life in the Big Apple she sings Sondheim’s ‘Uptown, Downtown’, written for Follies but not used, about one “Hyphenated Harriet’, the nouveau from New Rochelle”. To illustrate her in and out of love situations she offers ‘What More Do I Need?’ from the same composer’s Saturday Night, coupled with Leroy Anderson, Walter and Jean Kerr and Joan Ford’s ‘I Never Know When to Say When’, as she reveals to her doctor her romantic failings. ‘You’re Moving Out Today’ is Carole Bayer Sager’s song written with Bette Midler and Bruce Roberts about the break-up of a relationship and it sits very well with ‘Where Do You Start?’, Johnny Mandel’s song with poignant lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman.

The star of A Chorus Line acknowledges her debt to the late Marvin Hamlisch who was very kind to her in her early days in New York and who wrote the music for the show. She sings her signature song from that show, ‘The Music and the Mirror’, with lyrics by Edward Kleban, as well as ‘At the Ballet’, a song very close to her own heart. Her triple talents as a singer, dancer and actress led to a chance encounter with her idol Fred Astaire with whom she finally managed to have a dance. Obviously, the abiding interest in her life has been the dancing, and she constantly moves around gracefully and with the subtle gestures and the earnest appeal of a born hoofer. The actress, or just the woman, in her can pinpoint a situation in seconds, creating a moving moment in time and have you listening to her memories with a lump in your throat, but then she will change the mood and have you laughing at the ironic comments she makes about herself and her own behaviour. Luckily, McKechnie seems to have survived most of her disappointments on her journey through life and with surprising equanimity.

Her set is rounded out with some classic, standard numbers such as Irving Berlin’s ‘I Got Lost in His Arms’ and ‘Better Luck Next Time’, followed by Sondheim’s ‘With So Little to Be Sure Of’, from Anyone Can Whistle, and Jim Croce’s ‘Time in a Bottle’. It’s a marvellous performance from McKechnie and her musicians, Nathan Martin on piano and Dave Olney on bass, and I can’t wait to get the CD and listen to it all over again.

Same Place, Another Time will be released by Jay Records. Further details on www.jayrecords.com

 

Patrick Honoré writes:

PH: Last April, while you played at the Crazy Coqs, The Chorus Line revival opened at the Palladium, while another related musical A Class Act opened at the Landor Theatre on the London Fringe. What about the synchronicity? 

Donna Mckechnie: Things happened unplanned but I was happy to see The Chorus Line revival as I always am when I see Michael [Bennett]’s work done right. I didn’t see A Class Act, but it’s a wonderful show and I heard John Barr was phenomenal as Edward Kleban, Chorus’ lyricist.

PH: Who wrote your new show Same Place, Another Time, which is almost more of a mini-musical tha a club act? 

DM: I did. The idea came to me when I was booked at 54 Below to create a show about the history of that magical place. I got to know the venue in its heyday in the late 70s when movie stars were rubbing elbows with intellectuals and kids form West Village. “Are you somebody?” they asked me at the door. “I’m on Broadway!” was my answer!

PH: Why London for the recording? 

DM: Again, it just happened. After I did my show at Crazy Coqs, John Yap decided to produce the recording for Jay Records. London has always been close to my heart. I came with the original cast of A Chorus Line and, although the scheduled production of the musical Over Here didn’t materialise, I did Can-Can with actor Bernard Alane in the 80s and appeared twice at Pizza On the Park with my first one-woman show Inside the Music and my second, My Musical Comedy Life.

PH: Any new projects?

DM: Quite a lot in New York. I’m going to host a new concept show called In Good Company at the legendary Birdland and a new show called 4 Girls with pals Maureen McGovern, Faith Prince and Andrea McArdle to start touring soon.

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