AISLE SAY Philadelphia


Text by Christopher Durang
Directed by Thommie Walsh
At Walnut Street Theatre
Ninth and Walnut Streets, Philadelphia, PA

Website: Box Office: (215) 574-3550

Reviewed by Claudia Perry

I was lucky enough to be able to catch Donna McKechnie's one-woman musical that celebrates the career of one of Broadway's greatest dancers -- her! Written by Christopher Durang, one of our funniest playwrights, Ms. McKechnie's act is a lighthearted romp through the ups and downs of her life in show business. Her opening is a schizophrenic delight, where Ms. McKechnie can't seem to catch the right "tone" to take with the audience and consequently ends up trying out a couple of different songs before she finds the right one. Ms. McKechnie's sweetly charismatic personality coupled with Mr. Durang's obsessive neuroses makes for an adorably wacky evening.

The eighteen musical numbers are an eclectic selection of lesser known Broadway tunes, such as "Everybody Says Don't" from "Anyone Can Whistle" by Stephen Sondheim and Jerry Herman's, "Just Go to the Movies", from A Day in Hollywood, A Night in the Ukraine" and great new contemporary songs like, "Astaire" by Ann Hampton Calloway & Lindy Robbins. Here, Mr. Herman's song has been expanded with songs from the movies -- which then builds into quite a nice musical scene. "Astaire" comes at the climax of a monologue about Ms. McKechnie's real life meeting with Fred Astaire. "Lies of Handsome Men" is a wonderful dramatic piece by Francesca Blumenthal. As is the old standard "Guess Who I Saw Today" by Murray Grand and E. Boyd. These songs illustrate what a truly wonderful actress Ms. McKechnie is. She also sings several songs from shows she has appeared in, such as "A Secretary is Not a Toy", from "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying", by Frank Loesser (where she dances the choreography that Bob Fosse created for her), "Turkey Lurkey Time" from "Promises, Promises" by Burt Bachrach and Hal David and "You Could Drive a Person Crazy" from "Company" by Stephen Sondheim. She also sings a song from the wonderful, but now closed, "A Class Act" by Ed Kleban, "Broadway Boogie Woogie Blues". Of course, Ms. McKechnie saves the best for last, the song created for her by Marvin Hamlisch and Ed Kleban, "The Music and the Mirror" from "A Chorus Line". But before this final star turn, Ms. McKechnie sings the song that Hamlisch originally penned for her, "Inside the Music". Although it too is a wonderful song, it was eventually dropped from the show in place of "The Music and the Mirror" because it was too operatic.

Throughout the evening Ms McKechnie's voice is in fine form. Known as a Broadway belter she also has quite a developed sweet sounding head voice which she uses to great effect. She is most ably helped in her vocal endeavors by Philip Fortenberry, her musical director and accompanist who hangs on her every breath. like a lover hangs on the honeyed words of his beloved. It's truly exciting to see people really making music -- together.

Ms. McKechnie does much more dancing than I expected her to. Though her figure is now more zaftig than it once was, nevertheless, Ms McKechnie can still dance up a storm. She's still got "it" and I guess she always will. Once a triple threat, always a triple threat. The show was deliciously surprising in every way from start to finish, and I am sure this is due in no small part to the clever direction by Thommie Walsh. Ms. McKechnie has previously taken this show to London where she has garnered rave reviews, and I can understand why. I hope this is the start of a nationwide tour for Ms. McKechnie, and if you're lucky enough to be in a city where she is -- rush to buy a ticket.

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