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Donna McKechnie


JAY Records

In her second solo album based on a nightclub act, Donna McKechnie again has the live recording done not in the club itself, but later in a recording set-up with invited guests to play to. This time, John Yap of JAY Records asked her to Angel Studios in London after her engagement in that city. The recording was done over two nights in September of 2013, but was just released this month.

As on her other set, a great deal of the autobiographical patter is included. There's some overlap in the parts of her life covered, but it's no simple rehash. Since she's synonymous with A Chorus Line, it's no surprise to find that iconic show represented, though it's not explored at length here. "At the Ballet," partially based on her own experience, is not as grand or lengthy as in the show version, and she doesn't attempt to play all the characters. (Maggie is the one she says was based on her childhood experiences, dancing around the house with the imaginary Indian chief.) A warmly told patter section tells of her first meeting with Marvin Hamlisch as a rehearsal pianist and playing for her audition for her first Broadway show (rehearsed chez Hamlisch, when he was still living with his parents).

The singer sounds splendid, her voice juicy and full, quite exciting when she belts, and rich with nuance and shading in calmer moments. As Frank Sinatra used to do early in his concerts, she uses "Where or When" by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart to bond with the audience, as if to say "Don't we know each other?" She's done the show at 54 Below in Manhattan and here references the venue's memories as she used to dance after A Chorus Line in the club's earlier incarnation as Studio 54 and had her first apartment on the street.

There are two repeats from her earlier (2002) album: "Where Do You Start?" and the ode to her dancing idol, "Astaire," in context of the dream-come-true time she met him and he took her out to dinner and danced with her in his home just before saying goodnight. As on that CD titled Inside the Music, she spends some time on Sondheim; again, something written for Follies (she's been in a couple of presentations of the show). This time, it's the cut number "Uptown, Downtown." And she presents two earlier choices from the composer-lyricist's earlier works: "What More Do I Need?" (Saturday Night), referring to her own early New York days (and still sounding buoyantly youthful and exuberant), and Anyone Can Whistle's "With So Little to Be Sure Of," as a bittersweet, mature encore. ("You thought I was leaving?" she slyly states as she launches into this finale). New to her songstack is something she's been waiting to do since it was suggested to her by the lady who introduced it on Broadway: "I Never Know When to Say When," performed by the late Elaine Stritch in Goldilocks.

Irving Berlin is represented twice: with "Better Luck Next Time," one of the writer's more thoughtful and sober efforts, which makes for a fine torchy moment about a lost love, as commented on in therapy sessions she discusses. The other is that Annie Get Your Gun ballad favored by so many singers, "I Got Lost in His Arms." Add Donna's version as one more well-done one, cozy yet reflective. When singing of romances, she sounds invested in remembering them vividly.

(A side note: The CD insert has some unfortunate errors in crediting the songwriters, doubly woesome because these mistakes are repeated on the Internet in listings for the album. For the record, the Goldilocks score was by Leroy Anderson, Joan Ford, and the husband-and-wife team of Jean Kerr and Walter Kerr, the newspaper theatre critic. The music for "Where Do You Start?" is by Johnny Mandel; and the "n" was left off co-lyricist Marilyn Bergman's first name. Bette Midler's co-writers on "You're Moving Out Today," which sets up "Where Do You Start?" were Bruce Roberts and Carole Bayer Sager. There is some underscoring by the fine pianist Nathan Martin, which one doesn't really expect to have credited for such brief appearances, but alert showtune fans will enjoy the nods to A Chorus Line's "One" and "Dancing in the Dark" and such; they help tie the stories and sung sections together.)

The spoken sections really show personality and context, but some are way too long for many listeners to want to hear each time. They can be easily skipped over as they are separately tracked, with playing time and the first few words shown to remind you what and how long each is. The only tricky instance is "Astaire"—the singing of this is broken up by part of the story, so the second section of singing, which is superb, is actually included in the section listed as patter; don't miss out on it! Some tales are humorous, with the audience laughing quite a bit. I don't know how many people were present or how the mics were set up, but the laughter and applause seem jarringly loud and sudden, reminding me of some pumped-up canned laughter on TV sitcoms. I'm not at all suggesting it isn't genuine (Donna is quite amusing and her script is well written), but I wish it was not so distractingly loud.

It's always great to have this life-affirming and talented performer around—in roles, in cabaret, or on disc where we can keep revisiting her triumphs and struggles along with her.

- Rob Lester

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