"Acting comes first," says singer-dancer Donna McKechnie, when asked what makes a great dancer. "I think any inspired performance grows from acting — that's what I connect with. The first important dancer I ever saw was Alicia Alonso in ‘Swan Lake,' and what impressed me most was the profound emotional life she brought to the role." McKechnie, an energetic, ebullient woman of 64 who looks years younger, has been appearing in musicals since 1959 and is still doing so. At the time of this conversation, she was about to go to London to appear as one of the Andrews Sisters in a production of "Over Here," which takes place during World War II.
In 1975, an unusual musical opened at the Newman, part of the Public Theater. Called "A Chorus Line," it would become, at the time, the longest-running musical in Broadway history and made many careers, among them that of McKechnie. She won a Tony for it and married the show's director-choreographer, her longtime friend Michael Bennett. This fall, McKechnie published her autobiography, written with Greg Lawrence, "Time Steps: My Musical Comedy Life" (Simon & Schuster), which came out just in time to coincide with the revival of "A Chorus Line."
Many of the experiences of Cassie, McKechnie's "A Chorus Line" character, were based on her own, incorporated as part of the workshop method used to create the show. McKechnie attended the opening night of the revival but says that she can't be objective about it. She kept seeing the people who originally played the roles onstage. She admits to particularly missing the two great talents who shaped her career: Bennett and Bob Fosse, both of whom died in the Eighties. She had met Bennett when they were dancing on the seminal Sixties TV music program, "Hullabaloo." When she asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, he said, famously, "a choreographer." Collaborating on projects, McKechnie says, "We were finishing each other's sentences in a choreographic way." With the character of Cassie,
"He went out of his way to create a role for what my talent was."
McKechnie says she has enjoyed the roles she has done in subsequent years, most of them not on Broadway. "I loved doing ‘Annie Oakley,' Mama Rose [in "Gypsy'], ‘A Little Night Music' all over, that was great. To be able to be in first-rate productions." Her one-woman shows, "Inside the Music" and "Gypsy in My Soul," have also been hits.Along the way, the performer was stricken with an illness that, for a dancer, could hardly have been worse: rheumatoid arthritis. After many rounds with conventional medicine, she tried a strict diet and psychotherapy, which she claims enabled her to overcome it. "I really want people to go out there and not take no for an answer," she says. "There's always hope, I guess."
McKechnie is delighted by the Democrats' recent sweep of Congress, and "euphoric" about the women taking on leading political roles, particularly House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi. Her London project, "Over Here," is a spoof that features the Andrews Sisters looking for a new "sister" to join the act. "I said, ‘I want a big swing number. I want to be sweating and out of breath.' Me and my big mouth!" she says. And there is indeed a major dance number. As for the future, she optimistically cites the long career of actress Lillian Gish. "I see myself continuing as a healthy person and growing into parts, so I see no end."
My character, Dinah Madani, is just the coolest, [most] badass woman imaginable," says @amberroserevah. The actress stars in @marvel's newest series on @netflix, @thepunisher. To prepare for her role, Revah sat down with Homeland agents to get a real sense of with Dinah's day-to-day life is really like. Read our full interview on WWD.com. #wwdeye (📷: @jilliansollazzo)
A scene from the 91st annual @macys Thanksgiving Day Parade. The parade, which boasts 50 million TV viewers and 3.5 million on-site spectators, is considered one of the largest and most watched parades in the world. (📷: Jason Szenes/EPA-REX)
The circus came to @bloomingdales 59th Street on Tuesday night and lit up Lexington Avenue with acrobatic dancers, death-defying knife throwing, sword swallowing and aerial acts with no net. The 45 minutes of theatrics built up to unveiling the holiday windows depicting @swarovski crystal-encrusted circus pieces and scenes from “The Greatest Showman” – songs from the soundtrack included. See the rest of the photos on WWD.com #wwdfashion (📷: Joshua Scott)
The psychedelic fashion that pervaded the ’60s is back with an exhibit at the @museumofcityny. “Mode New York: Fashion Takes a Trip” chronicles the changing styles from 1960 through 1973 and features designers such as @ysl, @oscardelarenta and more. The exhibition, which is on display through April 1, is organized into four periods: First Lady Fasion, Youthquake, New Bohemia and New Nonchalance. Pictured here is model Pat Bardonella during the Garvey Day Parade in 1968. (📷: @kwamebphoto) #wwdeye #wwdfashion
“People should be a lot more honest in expressing both the dark and light of themselves. We need to give each other the space to do that because it’s the only way we can grow and evolve,” says @noelwells of her new film “Mr. Roosevelt,” which is largely based on her own struggles. Unexpectedly leaving @nbcsnl in 2014 after just one season, Wells felt set back in her self-esteem and career trajectory. She quickly refocused her energy to more personal projects, which led to the completion of “Mr. Roosevelt.” Read the rest of WWD’s interview with the “Master of None” actress on WWD.com #wwdeye (📷: @jilliansollazzo)
@barbrastreisand is giving fans a chance to see her perform up close in a new concert series, which makes its debut on @Netflix today. From behind-the-scenes takes to her concert performance in Miami last December, the two-hour streaming special captures Streisand in her element. Pictured here is the singer/actress photographed for WWD in 1963. (📷: Palmieri Tony) #wwdeye #wwdarchive
@chanel and @pharrell dropped what’s being dubbed as the world’s most exclusive sneakers yesterday. The Adidas Originals NMD Hu, which Williams designed in collaboration with Chanel and @adidasoriginals, has a waiting list of over 120K people who pre-registered online at chanelatcolette.fr –– and only 500 pairs are on sale. The singer predicted the resale value of the shoes could reach $40K. Read the full interview on WWD.com. Link in bio. #wwdfashion (📷: Dominique Maître)
@imanshumpert is diving deeper into his creative endeavors and relaunching his clothing line, Post 90s, and is helping to raise money for the hurricane victims in St. Maarten with a jersey he’s designed with his brother. The Cleveland Cavaliers player talked to WWD about kneeling during the national anthem, working with fashion brands and how he wants to be more than an @nba player. Read the interview on WWD.com #wwdfashion (📷: George Chinese)