Donna McKechnie charms in uneven cabaret show

Aug 17

Donna McKechnie

Broadway legend Donna McKechnie, the original Cassie in A Chorus Line, has talked and sung about her life before in San Francisco. In 2001, she brought Inside the Music to the Alcazar Theatre. The Tony Award-winner is back in town, still chatting and warbling about her storied life, but this time in a much smaller (and shorter) show in a much more charming room (Feinstein’s at the Nikko).

Same Place, Another Time begins in 1975 (to the strains of “The Hustle”) as McKechnie, then starring in A Chorus Line, arrives at Studio 54 for the first, moving past the velvet ropes and into the Liza-Mick-Warhol-glittered nightclub. Though from the Midwest, she sings “Native New Yorker” like she means it, though how “Where or When” fits into the scenario never becomes quite clear.

What starts out to be a document of becoming a Broadway star in the ’70s quickly devolves into a “then I went into therapy and got divorced” framework on which to hang some nice, if uninvolving songs. Belying her 72 years, McKechnie looks and sounds gorgeous, and when she deigns to move a little on the small stage, you see the elegance and panache that made her such a thrilling dancer.

This slight, hour-long show, with Eugene Gwozdz on piano, benefits from McKechnie’s abundance of charm, though at Friday’s opening performance she seemed nervous, bobbling a few lyrics and constantly pulling at the lapels of her black, sparkly jacket.

The best moments of the show are its most heartfelt. Discussing the creation of A Chorus Line, McKechnie admitted how wonderful it was to have a song written for her by Marvin Hamlisch and Ed Kleban that expressed her feelings about dance (“The Music and the Mirror,” which she did not sing). But then she said that her life experience was also the basis for the character of Maggie, at which point she movingly sang Maggie’s part of the trio “At the Ballet.”

McKechnie also talked about doing A Chorus Line in Los Angeles and who should show up to take her to dinner but Fred Astaire himself. Imagine dancing with Fred Astaire in his living room.

But what McKechnie doesn’t say but what was almost certainly true, is that Astaire had the privilege of dancing with the extraordinary McKechnie, who was then at the height of her terpsichorean powers.

And there’s the underlying problem with Same Place, Another Time, which is perfectly enjoyable: it doesn’t showcase McKechnie’s depths. Her “Better Luck Next Time” and “I Got Lost in His Arms” demonstrate a dramatic actress ready to tackle meatier, more revealing material that doesn’t necessarily need to be about the performer’s life but about the depths of the song itself.

FOR MORE INFORMATION
Donna McKechnie’s Same Place, Another Time is at 7 p.m. Aug. 17. Tickets are $30-$55. Call 866-663-1063 or visit www.ticketweb.com.

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