Sonoma Speaker Series: In Conversation with Donna McKechnie

Wednesday, May 29, 2019
Hanna Boys Center Auditorium

The Sonoma Speaker Series is partnering with Transcendence Theatre Company to bring Donna McKechnie to our stage!  McKechnie is a professional dancer, singer, actress, choreographer, and author whose illustrious career has spanned more than 50 years.  She is regarded internationally as one of Broadway’s foremost singing and dancing leading ladies.

Donna is best-known and beloved for her portrayal of Cassie in the original Broadway cast of the 1975 musical, A Chorus Line, for which she received the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical.  Her featured number, “The Music and the Mirror,” sheds a spotlight on the hopes and dreams of a struggling dancer, willing to return to the chorus for a job doing what she loves.

Born in Pontiac, Michigan in 1942, McKechnie grew up in the Detroit suburbs before falling for musicals by going to the movies.  After seeing the film, The Red Shoes, she took her first ballet class at age 7, and by 13 she was teaching her own class. “I was terribly shy,” she told People Magazine in 1983, “but I was always in harmony when I was dancing.”

“I knew about New York when I was very young because of Cyd Charisse, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, then The Red Shoes literally changed my life,” McKechnie said.  At age 17, when she didn’t have the support to pursue her dream, she ran away from home and moved to New York City to become a dancer.

After touring in West Side Story, and auditioning for countless other shows, she finally landed her Broadway debut in How to Succeed in Business Without Even Trying, where she danced under the direction of Bob Fosse (1961).  25 years later, Mr. Fosse invited her to play the lead in his last production, the National Tour of Sweet Charity.  Gwen Verdon gave her the gift of a lifetime when she took Donna by the hand and personally prepared her for the role.

By the time A Chorus Line hit Broadway, it was already a phenomenon, becoming the longest-running show in history (1975-1990).  While that record has since been broken — the current leader is now The Phantom of the Opera (1988-present) — the music of Marvin Hamlisch lives on.

Other Broadway shows that Donna performed in include:

  • The Education of Hyman Kaplan
  • Sondheim: A Musical Tribute (which she also choreographed)
  • Promises – Promises
  • Company
  • On the Town
  • State Fair (where she won the Fred Astaire Award)
  • The Visit
  • and, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

Donna continues to perform extensively on the concert stage and with symphony orchestras all over the country.

A recognized presence on the international stage, Donna first performed in London in 1969 with the musical Promises – Promises and has starred in numerous productions in London’s West End since, including Company, No Way To Treat A Lady (also choreographed), Can-Can,and Follies, among others.

McKechnie was featured in the documentary film, Every Little Step, and played Rose in the film, The Little Prince.  Her memoir, TIME STEPS – My Musical Comedy Life, was published in 2006.

Ms. McKechnie will be in conversation with Amy Miller, Artistic Director for Transcendence Theatre Company.  Transcendence will be launching their 2019 Broadway Under the Stars season by performing their first full-length Broadway musical, A Chorus Line, at Jack London State Park in June.  Members of the cast will be on hand for this Speaker Series event and may even perform a song or two!