BWW Review: Donna McKechnie Brings Joyful SAME PLACE ANOTHER TIME to LA
Someone once asked me what the key is to a good cabaret performance. My answer? First, the performer should be an experienced actor and really know him or herself in depth. He must separate his own personality from every role played on stage. Cabaret audiences want to see something special, a glow from the inside that makes the person take hold of the moment and run with it. Nobody does this better than Donna McKechnie, Tony Award winner for A Chorus Line, whose vibrant persona adds warmth to every moment that she is in our presence. To me she is practically the same off stage as on; maybe that's the key, just being your true joyful self.
Looking more beautiful than ever, McKechnie presented her newest show Same Place: Another Time on Sunday, May 28 at the Catalina Jazz Club, under the banner Chris Isaacson Presents. Performing to a packed audience of show biz friends and fans, McKechnie had two short opening acts and then essayed her set, about 70 minutes, that was packed full of delightful anecdotes about her life in New York in the 70s and now.
First up was New York singer Greg Safel who was promoting his first CD entitled Visible. Middle-aged Safel has a pleasant baritone that exudes charm and wisdom. He performed three songs from the album "Sunday in New York", the gorgeous "Flight" and "Roads", all alluding to one's life choices and resultant odyssey. Superb John Boswell accompanied Safel at the piano. Next up was the young heart-throb Jeffrey Scott Parsons who did one number, the hilarious "I Can't Do It Alone" from Chicago. The tune gave him a chance to show off his comic expertise as well as skill at tapping his toes. Refreshing that both singers were 150% different from one another.
Bring on the piece de resistance, and in spite of a tiny tumble where she tripped stepping onto the stage - which provided some immediate laughs - McKechnie proved in ultra fine form. Someone took her picture from the audience and she was quick to look the person square in the face and say, "You can't use that photo of me falling". Glenn Close and Patti LuPone both have recently scared the pants off of photographers who interrupted the flow of their performances and set a precedence of no cameras allowed. A few laughs and off she went with Rodgers' and Hart's "Where or When" on her professional and personal journey that began in 1977, as she moved from the midwest to New York.
A lot of her material was light and satirical, like comparing Studio 54 of the tumultuous 70s to the elegant cabaret scene at 54 Below today...as well as the tongue.in.cheek mention of her first dingy apartment in the city in which she saw everything through rose-colored glasses, sung to the strains of Sondheim's "What More Do I Need?" But, there were more intensely serious moments including her romantic liaisons and those sessions with a therapist that were supposed to offer insight into her deep discomfort and pain. She blamed the boyfriends, referring humorously to her self-centered judgment as the Masochist Lament ... and cursed the entire therapy thing as over-priced and ridiculous. In the 70s it was therapist, now it's life coach. McKechnie worked some lovely musical material into this segment like Harold Arlen's "The Morning After", "I Never Know When To Say When", "Moving Out Today" and a poignantly lilting "Where Do You Start?" by Alan and Marilyn Bergman.
Other highlights included a stunning "At the Ballet" from A Chorus Line. Character Maggie's story was actually McKechnie's own, even though she did not perform it in the original show. Another winner here was Ann Hampton-Callaway's and Lindy Robbins' "Astaire" about meeting Fred backstage and a wonderfully unexpected evening that followed. There was also the precious Berlin tune "Lost In His Arms", and Portia Nelson's fun "Hate/Love New York" . McKechnie closed lovingly with Jim Croce's "Time in a Bottle". Ian Herman expertly accompanied her throughout the set that never lacked a spicy sense of humor.
I found McKechnie's voice more beautiful, strong and vibrant than ever. She can rigorously hit and sustain the notes while telling the stories. That is most impressive for an older singer, and she proves once again that she is still a talent to be reckoned with...one of the very best. Brava!
(performance photo credit: Casey Kringlen)