Donna McKechnie: My Musical Comedy Life – Cabaret Festival

Donna McKechnie Cabaret FestivalPresented by the Adelaide Cabaret Festival
Reviewed Wed 16th June 2010

Venue: Festival Theatre Stage, Adelaide Festival Centre
Season: 6:30PM Thurs 17th and 9PM Fri 19th June
Tickets: Premium $49.95/Adult $39.95/conc $35.95
Bookings: BASS 131 241 or

A teenaged Donna McKechnie ran away from home to New York, to take a job as a dancer. Her father went after her and brought her home to Detroit. That could have been the end of the story, but her parents relented and her career was born. This show tells a little of her life, her busy career and the people that she has met and worked with over the years, with many great songs along the way.

For most people, mentioning the likes of Marvin Hamlisch, Bob Fosse, Stephen Sondheim and Fred Astaire in conversation would be name-dropping, but not when your name is as just big as theirs, and McKechnie is a very big name in the world of musical theatre. Her first Broadway show, in 1961, was How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and  a few years later her role as Cassie in A Chorus Line in 1976 won her a Tony Award and a Drama Desk Award. She has, of course, also appeared on television in shows such as Cheers and Family Ties, not to mention Fame.

The opening words of Everything’s Coming up Roses, sung from offstage, started a lively round of applause that continued as Donna McKechnie entered the stage to complete the song. She said that she was excited to be here, on her first trip to Australia, and she certainly seemed to be bubbling over with enthusiasm. It was obvious from the very start that she has perfect diction and, joy of joys, the sound technician was one of those rare people that really knows what he is doing, so that nothing was lost in the amplification. Added to that, the lighting was also varied, yet superbly understated. To add the finishing touch, she was backed by three excellent Adelaide musicians, with Jamie Jones on Drums, Alana Dawes on bass and that much sought-after accompanist, Matthew Carey on piano.

In her youth, like so many people, she would escape her life for a short time by going to the movies, and that was a cue for a medley of great songs from the films of the past. Then along came television, and more opportunities escapism that would suffice until she was finally able to make her real escape from her unhappy family situation. Humour, too, was a big part of this performance, often delivered as a throw away line that raised howls of laughter.

There were some very poignant songs from time to time, but much of the show was upbeat and the good times certainly outweighed the bad. There were songs especially written for her, taking advantage of her great vocal range, well known songs from the many great shows in which she has appeared, and a few that were less familiar, in this terrifically varied selection. She offers an hilarious musical rant at the way in which technology has replaced face to face communication that really resonated with the audience. She also gives a truly marvellous rendition of Stephen Sondheim’s In Buddy’s Eyes.

McKechnie is a real trouper; even severe arthritis and the doctor’s pronouncement that she would never dance again couldn’t stop her performing. Stephen Sondheim’s I’m Still Here said it all. Sadly, time ran out too quickly and, after an encore, applause and a well-deserved standing ovation, it was all over. Lucky those that will get to see this show over the next two evenings.

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor Glam Adelaide.

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