Broadway legend Donna McKechnie gave a behind-the-scenes account of her career Friday night as she debuted her cabaret act "Inside the Music" before a nearly sold-out crowd at the Queens Theater in the Park.
McKechnie, best known for her Tony-Award winning performance as Cassie in "A Chorus Line," boasts a Broadway career that spans three decades, including roles in "Promises, Promises," "Company," and "State Fair."
Performing on a stage with only a pianist, a percussionist, a ballet barre and a chair, McKechnie recounted a show business biography that ultimately reached a happy ending despite its fair share of bumps along the way.
Her script, by noted American playwright Christopher Durang, fluttered between sophisticated wit and musical theater charm, seamlessly weaving monologue with song and dance. The musical selections were the product of an intricate cut-and-paste job through decades of Broadway theater, as songs pulled from a host of musicals found new meaning when thrust in the context of McKechnie's life.
Surely many in the audience came to see McKechnie reprise some of her most famous performances, including "If They Could See Me Now" from "Sweet Charity" and "The Music and the Mirror" from "A Chorus Line," both of which she performed faithfully to the original choreography.
However, equally enthralling was the candor with which McKechnie recounted her show business biography.
To hear Donna McKechnie talk about the struggles of a dancer certainly isn't unusual. In "A Chorus Line," she played a former Broadway star who pleaded with a director to cast her as a chorus dancer because she was desperate for work, desperate to perform.
This time she was telling her own show business story, giving as much attention to the disappointments and lulls as to the myriad successes that have kept her consistently in the spotlight.
She began the performance wavering between snippets of songs - from "Cock-Eyed Optimist" to "Hello Dolly" and "I Want to be Loved"- as she struggled self-consciously to discover the perfect opening number.
"Am I chipper enough for you? Too chipper?" she asked.
In the end she hit it just right, showing off her versatility as an actress with a campy musical account of her love affair with the movies, followed by a solemn song leading us through the demise of her first marriage.
A cabaret performance inevitably hinges upon the personality of the performer, who faces the challenge of accurately playing herself and creating an amiable rapport with her audience, showing off why she's a star, but connecting with spectators on a personal level.
McKechnie charmed her audience with sincerity and a kindness one rarely expects to see in show business. As she said to a psychiatrist who told her she was bottling up too much of her anger, "I couldn't be angry. It just wouldn't be nice."
Some audience members were impressed that McKechnie, now 58, could still move so well, let alone dance excerpts from roles she played nearly 30 years ago.
"Can you believe she's 58? I thought she was younger than me," one man was overheard remarking.
"Did you see how far she bent down her knees?" his companion said, trying in vain to mimic the grand plie that McKechnie performed at the barre as she fondly remembered her dance classes.
It was as clear to them as to the rest of the audience - Donna McKechnie still has it.
Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.
©2001 Community News Group
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