Recently I had the rare opportunity to hear Broadway legend Donna McKechnie speak, right here in Sonoma courtesy of Sonoma Speaker Series and Transcendence Theatre Company. Seems Amy Miller, artistic director of TTC, has long had an artistic crush on Ms. McKechnie, and actually shared the stage with her when she was in college. Amy had the bravery to write Donna and ask if she might come to Sonoma in order to give a workshop for the cast of A Chorus Line, the first-ever musical to be undertaken by TTC— and Donna said yes— so the idea of a community presentation was born, and voila— a few hundred of us were savvy enough to grab the chance to see her.
I knew she would be fascinating, due to her long and stellar career on Broadway and around the world— How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (in which she met Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, then the series Hullabaloo (in which she met Michael Bennett, who became her husband and a career influence), Promises, Promises, Call Me Madam (with Ethel Merman), A Chorus Line, Sweet Charity, Company, and many more, winning awards along the way, including a memorable Tony award for her role in A Chorus Line. Hearing her anecdotes about all the greats she’s worked with and her own experiences navigating the world of Broadway and beyond was enormously worthwhile for anyone who has admired her work, like I have.
But I had no idea she would also be so warm, witty, and full of heart— an authentic and gentle wisdom emanated from her, a positive energy that permeated the room and embraced the entire audience in a loving aura. Rarely have I been a part of such an uplifting experience, one fueled by the generosity of spirit released into the space, such that we were made to feel capable, talented, and ourselves empowered to be our best selves in pursuit of our art. We were encouraged to seek our own heart’s desire, to follow our instincts, and never give up on ourselves— without cloying sentiment, but with grace and blessing. It was truly an extraordinary event, one I shall long remember and cherish.
Tonight I get to see A Chorus Line as presented by Transcendence, that is the culmination of a long-held dream by Amy Miller and her artistic team, including her husband Brad Surosky, co-executive director, and co-executive director Stephan Stubbins. The night Donna held sway included two songs performed by cast members— “At the Ballet,” sung by Sara Andreas, Leslie Rochette, and Erika Conaway; and “What I Did For Love” sung by Natalie Gallo; both numbers accompanied on keyboard by music director Daniel Weidlein. The brilliance of these two performances, delivered with simple power, held much promise for this evening.
I’d invite you to join me, but the weekend is sold out. You can get on a waiting list I’m told, but best to grab the phone or go online and get your seats for upcoming performances. You won’t be sorry…
A Chorus Line, presented by Transcendence Theatre Company, performed at Jack London State Park, June 14 through June 30. http://transcendencetheatre.org or call 877-424-1414, Ext. 1