Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Review: Donna McKechnie Is Luminous In TAKE ME TO THE WORLD – THE SONGS OF STEPHEN SONDHEIM at 54 Below

The Tony Award recipient and Friend Of Steve opens a new, highly personal, and brilliant show.

Review: Donna McKechnie Is Luminous In TAKE ME TO THE WORLD – THE SONGS OF STEPHEN SONDHEIM at 54 Below

They say that the light in Paris is different from anywhere else in the world. Legend, and the song La Vie En Rose, tell us that the light there is actually pink, and people who have been to Paris and seen that pink light are always happy and thrilled to confirm that the rumors are true. Well, like Paris, there is a special quality to the light on 54th Street right now, but it isn't the light outside that is so unique: it's the light in the basement at 54 Below. That special light is coming directly from within Donna McKechnie.

There is a quality that sets an entertainer apart, a uniqueness that renders the actor into something more, something that people describe by using words like "star" and "icon" and "legend." Donna McKechnie has that unique, individual "something different" and that is why she has been a star, lo, these many years. This isn't hyperbole, it's pure fact. When you are in a room with Donna McKechnie there is an actual light that emanates from her that isn't present with other actors, actors who have their own special uniqueness, but not this one. Donna McKechnie is the light. And the light is beautiful; it's much more beautiful than one might even imagine, maybe even more beautiful than the pink light of Paris. But it's there, wherever she is, and when a person is exposed to that light, the whole world seems better, for those few minutes.

For seventy-five minutes last night, the whole world was better - much, much better.

Review: Donna McKechnie Is Luminous In TAKE ME TO THE WORLD – THE SONGS OF STEPHEN SONDHEIM at 54 Below Donna McKechnie has opened her new show TAKE ME TO THE WORLD - THE SONGS OF Stephen Sondheim and teams of people last night were 54 Below Besotted by her and her program. An actress and a woman who has a long history with Mr. Sondheim, Ms. McKechnie is in the enviable position of being able to share her own, personal, stories about and memories of Steve (she makes a particular point of noting when, in the journey, she stopped calling him Mr. Sondheim and started calling him Steve), and those stories told in that inimitable McKechnie style make the heart swell with joy and the smile broaden to point of laughter. Even though Mr. Sondheim died last November, there is no sadness in this tale; even though the stories recounted involve show business foibles and disappointments, there is no darkness here. There is only joy: joy for what she experienced, joy for what he created, joy in remembering the adventure.

And this was an adventure.

Review: Donna McKechnie Is Luminous In TAKE ME TO THE WORLD – THE SONGS OF STEPHEN SONDHEIM at 54 Below From her first exposure to the Sondheim of West Side Story to her first meeting with the Maestro, all the way through being cast in Company, playing two different parts in two different Follies, and bringing Desiree Armfeldt to the regional theaters of America, Donna McKechnie fills 54 Below with charm, pathos, and the lyrical moves of a dancing actress, as she shares the unmistakable sound of her lilting soprano and Broadway belt on songs from plays she has done, songs that reflect her journey in life, and songs that honor the legend. And even though she did, in fact, appear in A Funny Thing... Forum, Company, Follies, and A Little Night Music, this is not a case of an actress simply standing on the stage and belting out "You Could Drive a Person Crazy" or preening her way through "Lovely" or falling into old acting patterns by simply singing "Don't Look At Me." McKechnie and Musical Director Ian Herman have arranged her program into one that is founded upon the source material, informed by the woman she was when she played the parts, and seasoned by the woman that she is today, making the musical and acting experience a complete one, from tip to tail. Tunes that start out with straightforward Broadway arrangements may segue into a samba here, or a little jazz treatment there, as Donna McKechnie brings all Review: Donna McKechnie Is Luminous In TAKE ME TO THE WORLD – THE SONGS OF STEPHEN SONDHEIM at 54 Below the women to life - the women she has been, and the women she has played. And it is to everyone's benefit that this singing actress is also one of the greatest dancers in the history of the theater because both McKechnie's training and instinct make it possible for her to embody Sondheim's lyrics with all the parts of herself. The lyrics and the music live in her voice, in her acting choices, and in the movements that accompany the two. Observe the excess within control that is Donna McKechnie's performance of "Losing My Mind" - this song is an Everest of musical performing, one that has intimidated some to the point of pushing their performance over the peak. Not Donna McKechnie. This is one of the great performances of this musical monologue because, as an actress, Donna McKechnie knows how and where to place the emotion on her face and in her voice; as a dancer, she knows when to stand absolutely still, and precisely how much of the emotional journey can be communicated simply by running her hand through her hair. The performance of "Losing My Mind" is, alone, worth the price of admission. But there is more... much, much more.

Review: Donna McKechnie Is Luminous In TAKE ME TO THE WORLD – THE SONGS OF STEPHEN SONDHEIM at 54 Below Donna McKechnie is funny. She is a very funny girl, and the great thing about it is that, if she knows she's funny, it doesn't show. This is all natural, coming from an organic place within. All throughout the evening Donna McKechnie makes mirth out of her stories, sometimes with laughter built into the rise and fall of her script, sometimes by breaking free of the script and letting her guard down with the people in the seats out front (with whom she is in a continual conversation), and sometimes by pure accident. At last night's performance, Ms. McKechnie was comfortable enough on the stage to be authentically herself, making fun of lyric fluffs ("Lyrics to live by!"), commenting on the experience of returning to the stage after two years ("I have notes."), and handling, with unparalleled professionalism, the unrelenting chatter of a five-year-old in the front row (shame on those parents). Making light of her relationship with the Broadway Buffs in the audience, she brought the crowd into the conversation with quizzes and questions, and encouraged the crowd to speak up ("That's the magic of cabaret"), but the audience was content to just sit back and bask in the light as the Tony Award recipient gave an absolute master class on how it is possible to present the play in mere minutes. Taking songs from Company and Follies out of context, performing them in a nightclub setting, and still being able to communicate the journey of the character, as well as the journey of the lyrics, is a talent - one that not every nightclub singer excels at. But not every nightclub singer can give all of Sally Durant Plummer in a medley of only three songs written for Follies. Donna McKechnie can. Not every nightclub singer can take an old chestnut like "Being Alive" and present the pain of Bobby, Dean Jones, and their own self in four and a half weep-inducing minutes. Donna McKechnie can. Not every nightclub singer can find something new to give their audience with "Send In The Clowns." Donna McKechnie can.

Review: Donna McKechnie Is Luminous In TAKE ME TO THE WORLD – THE SONGS OF STEPHEN SONDHEIM at 54 Below

"Send In The Clowns" is a simple song, musically - famously so. Everyone talks about the small vocal range of the song - even Mr. Sondheim had discussed writing a song that would fit Glynis Johns' limited vocal range. But it isn't an easy song. And singing "Send In The Clowns" is setting oneself up for an unimpressed audience. This actress, this singer, this singing actress, Donna McKechnie, found layers that this reporter and Sondheim devotee has not seen before. Anyone can sing "Send In The Clowns" and just about everyone has - men, women, gender non-conforming actors - they've all done it and they are all welcome to do it. But, right now, this is about the ladies. Every actress who sings "Send In The Clowns" doesn't just come up onto the stage with herself - she brings Desiree Armfeldt with her. It's built into the song. As nice as it would be to only sing the legendary song for itself, out of context, it is hardly possible. The circumstance is ingrained in the composition. So when an actress sings "Send In The Clowns" she carries with it herself, the character of Desiree, and the mosaic that is every other woman who has ever built their own Armfeldt House and lived in it. Donna McKechnie presents the sadness, the anger, the regret, but there is also overwhelming warmth, irony, resigned humor, and, eventually, release. As, one by one, the emotions washed over Ms. McKechnie's entire being, this writer was reminded of the train scene in the movie Unfaithful, when Diane Lane tells the entire story through only the emotions showing on her face. This simple but not easy song becomes a tour-de-force performance in Donna McKechnie's hands, and it is a reminder of something everyone already knows, and has known for a long time: this is that rare type of artist to which people refer as a "one and only."

Review: Donna McKechnie Is Luminous In TAKE ME TO THE WORLD – THE SONGS OF STEPHEN SONDHEIM at 54 Below Whichever of the individual stories being told throughout TAKE ME TO THE WORLD, whether a humorous anecdote about lessons learned from Angela Lansbury, a paean to being home after touring with a show, or any of the eighteen Stephen Sondheim songs made more resplendent by a world-class band (Herman on piano, Ray Marchica on drums, Ray Kilday on bass), there isn't a moment of Donna McKechnie's show that disappoints. Take Me To The World is storytelling, it is cabaret, it is theater that is beyond satisfying. This is a prime example of quality writing and performing, and ongoing proof of how unique, how important, how special is that ineffable Donna McKechnie light.

Donna McKechnie TAKE ME TO THE WORLD - THE SONGS OF Stephen Sondheim plays 54 Below June 3rd and 4th at 7 pm. For information and reservations visit the 54 Below website HERE.

Donna McKechnie has a website HERE.

Review: Donna McKechnie Is Luminous In TAKE ME TO THE WORLD – THE SONGS OF STEPHEN SONDHEIM at 54 Below

Review: Donna McKechnie Is Luminous In TAKE ME TO THE WORLD – THE SONGS OF STEPHEN SONDHEIM at 54 Below Review: Donna McKechnie Is Luminous In TAKE ME TO THE WORLD – THE SONGS OF STEPHEN SONDHEIM at 54 Below Review: Donna McKechnie Is Luminous In TAKE ME TO THE WORLD – THE SONGS OF STEPHEN SONDHEIM at 54 Below Review: Donna McKechnie Is Luminous In TAKE ME TO THE WORLD – THE SONGS OF STEPHEN SONDHEIM at 54 Below

Review: Donna McKechnie Is Luminous In TAKE ME TO THE WORLD – THE SONGS OF STEPHEN SONDHEIM at 54 Below Review: Donna McKechnie Is Luminous In TAKE ME TO THE WORLD – THE SONGS OF STEPHEN SONDHEIM at 54 Below Review: Donna McKechnie Is Luminous In TAKE ME TO THE WORLD – THE SONGS OF STEPHEN SONDHEIM at 54 Below Review: Donna McKechnie Is Luminous In TAKE ME TO THE WORLD – THE SONGS OF STEPHEN SONDHEIM at 54 Below Review: Donna McKechnie Is Luminous In TAKE ME TO THE WORLD – THE SONGS OF STEPHEN SONDHEIM at 54 Below Review: Donna McKechnie Is Luminous In TAKE ME TO THE WORLD – THE SONGS OF STEPHEN SONDHEIM at 54 Below Review: Donna McKechnie Is Luminous In TAKE ME TO THE WORLD – THE SONGS OF STEPHEN SONDHEIM at 54 Below Photos by Stephen Mosher



The Anderson Brothers, Rickie Lee Jones, and More to Play Birdland This Month Photo
​​​​​​​Birdland Jazz Club and Birdland Theater have announced jazz programming running April 3 through April 16.

Kate Baldwin & Aaron Lazar, Linda Eder, and More to Play 54 Below This Month Photo
Next month, 54 BELOW, Broadway's Supper Club & Private Event Destination, presents some of the brightest stars from Broadway, cabaret, jazz, and beyond. A recipient of the 2022 Tony Awards Honor for Excellence in the Theatre, 54 Below celebrates Broadway musicals and writers of the past and present, promoting an ongoing engagement with their work.

EPIC Players and Broadway Stars to Sing Together On Stage at 54 Below for World Autism Day Photo
This Sunday, April 2 – World Autism Day – the theater company will present a one-night-only, neuro-inclusive cabaret, EPIC Sings for Autism: Let's Duet. Audiences can expect a celebration of neuro-diversity in the arts community with inclusive renditions of iconic medleys, trios and duets from musicals such as Waitress and Into The Woods, as well as a Disney medley and much more.

Jennifer Simard Can Have Everyones NUMBER Photo
From the moment she appeared in the audience singing “One Night Only from Dreamgirls, sliding down a banister like a wacky Mame, you knew you were in for a comedic master class. She is an excellent mimic, a powerhouse singer, and in the end a sensitive and truthful actor. She is living proof of Elaine Stritch’s maxim, “To play comedy you have to be real.” Jennifer Simard is absolutely the real deal.


From This Author - Stephen Mosher

Stephen Mosher is the author of The Sweater Book (a collection of his photography featuring celebrated artists from the entertainment communities of New York, Los Angeles, and London), Lived In Cra... (read more about this author)


Photos: March 21st THE LINEUP WITH SUSIE MOSHER Shines Bright In Matt Baker's LensPhotos: March 21st THE LINEUP WITH SUSIE MOSHER Shines Bright In Matt Baker's Lens
March 31, 2023

Susie Mosher is only doing two shows a month right now, so she makes each one spectacular.

Review: Katie Zaffrann Presents Personal MARRY ME A LITTLE: A COLD FEET CABARET at The Green Room 42Review: Katie Zaffrann Presents Personal MARRY ME A LITTLE: A COLD FEET CABARET at The Green Room 42
March 31, 2023

Katie Zaffrann's theatrical recounting of her walk down the aisle makes for good cabaret.

10 Videos Proving Melissa Errico Is A TERMINAL INGENUE at The Green Room 4210 Videos Proving Melissa Errico Is A TERMINAL INGENUE at The Green Room 42
March 30, 2023

Terminal Ingénue: The Mis-Education of Melissa Errico will feature songs by Lerner & Loewe, Kurt Weill & Ogden Nash, Cole Porter, Michel Legrand – and of course, her beloved friend Stephen Sondheim.

Review: With A SEASONAL PLAYLIST at The Green Room 42, Singer-Songwriter Ryan Dunn Arrives On The SceneReview: With A SEASONAL PLAYLIST at The Green Room 42, Singer-Songwriter Ryan Dunn Arrives On The Scene
March 29, 2023

Debuting one's original compositions never before seemed so easy.

Review: Jason Kravits Standing Room Only at Birdland Theater For OFF THE TOP!Review: Jason Kravits Standing Room Only at Birdland Theater For OFF THE TOP!
March 28, 2023

With announced special guest Julie Benko and surprise special guest Jason Yeager, Jason Kravits sends OFF The TOP! audience home happy.