Original cast member of ‘A Chorus Line’ in Sonoma on May 29
Tony Award-winning actress, dancer, choreographer and author Donna McKechnie was in the original 1975 cast of “A Chorus Line” on Broadway. Looking back over the 44 years since, she recognizes how many doors the show has opened for her.
“It’s the gift that keeps on giving,” she said.
McKechnie is coming to Sonoma on May 29 for an “In Conversation With…” event as part of the Sonoma Speaker Series in conjunction with Transcendence Theatre Company. Transcendence will be performing “A Chorus Line” – its first full-length show - in June.
“It’s wonderful to see that it’s going all over the world again and again,” said McKechnie. “It’s a great metaphor and has a great spirit that connects with people.”
When Transcendence’s co-founder and artistic director Amy Miller invited McKechnie to speak in Sonoma, she was thrilled.
“I found out more about what (Miller) and her husband (company co-founder Brad Suroksy) have done and I was really impressed by the work that they’ve done… and what they’re trying to create, so when the invitation was made, I was happy to accept it,” she said.
McKechnie has seen multiple theater companies stage “A Chorus Line” across the world.
“It was wonderful to see and to meet young artists and see the talent, which is fantastic. It re-inspires me,” she said. “I feel hopeful for us for the future because of the young people that I meet today. Everybody is stepping up to express themselves creatively and I think it’s just a great thing.”
McKechnie generally doesn’t come with anything prepared ahead of time for speaking events. She likes to have authentic, candid conversations, and for this event, she will be in conversation with Miller.
“I probably won’t know what I’m going to talk about until I get there,” she said. “I usually just answer questions as they’re asked.”
She does know, however, some general advice she always has for theater companies that put on “A Chorus Line.”
“Just go for the emotional truth, find the personal connection and make it truthful from the inside out,” she said. “The most important thing is to be real and simple in your expression because that’s what connects the people after all these years and all the different languages that it’s been done in. That is what makes the human connection. That is what the show is about.”
McKechnie has visited Sonoma before, but not for very long.
“That’s a beautiful part of the country. Last time I was there, I wasn’t aware of any theater around there, so it’s all going to be new to me,” she said.
McKechnie began her performing career by studying ballet in Detroit, Michigan. After landing a role in a New York show, McKechnie received a phone call from the director a few months later. He asked her if she could move to New York for four weeks of rehearsal and then a five week tour. Her parents said no, but she couldn’t resist the offer.
“I did something like you would see in a movie,” she said. “I packed my bags and snuck out of the house and ran away to New York… I just thought in my teenage angst, ‘this is my big break.’”
McKechnie’s first Broadway show was “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” under the direction of Bob Fosse in 1961. Twenty-five years later, Fosse asked her to star in “Sweet Charity.” Tony Award-winning actress Gwen Verdon, who was Fosse’s wife, personally helped McKechnie prepare for her role.
“After that it was just show to show, living in New York, living a life that, you know, that was very insecure, but always trying my best to improve, and doing what I love,” said McKechnie.
When McKechnie first met Michael Bennett, he told her he wanted to be a choreographer.
“We all had our dreams then,” she said of Bennett, who would go on to choreograph and direct “A Chorus Line.” “Our lives were ahead of us.”
When Bennett was working on bringing “A Chorus Line” to life, the number McKechnie was in wasn’t working. Instead of cutting the number, and her, from the show, Bennett worked with her to turn the dance into the final product of “The Music and The Mirror,” a solo dance that earned McKechnie the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical in 1976.
Today, McKechnie is a part of the touring concert “4 Girls 4,” with shows booked through 2020.
“As long as I’m singing and able to go to dance class, I’m happy,” she said.
Tickets for the “In Conversation With…” event can be purchased on The Sonoma Series website. The Transcendence Theatre Company will be staging A Chorus Line June 14-30 and tickets can be purchased on the theatre company’s website.