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Loose Lips

Donna McKechnie gets her new act together and takes it to Le Jazz au Bar. Plus: Omar Metwally stars in Beast on the Moon. logo
Donna McKechnie
(Photo © Michael Portantiere)
New Yorkers who didn't get to see Donna McKechnie as Mama Rose or La Mome Pistache, since she didn't do Gypsy or Can-Can here, will soon have the chance to sample her performances in those coveted roles: The Tony Award-winning star's new cabaret act The Gypsy in My Soul, which begins a two-week run at Le Jazz Au Bar on April 18, is all about her life on the road.

"For the first 10 years of my career, it was Broadway show after Broadway show," says McKechnie. "But I've been on the road for most of the last 35 years. And while it's a privilege, you also make a lot of sacrifices. This show is about coming to terms with those choices." To explain her feelings, McKechnie will sing such standards as "By Myself" and "A House is Not a Home," and will also recreate moments from some of her out-of-town roles. "I've found some great theaters around the country," she tells me, "like the Ohio Theater in Cleveland, where I did Gypsy. It was actually part of the old Orpheum Circuit, so to go out there and sing 'Some People' that first night was wild. I also love a lot of the old West End theaters, like the Drury Lane, and I loved doing Can-Can in London. For this show, I'm letting myself sing 'It's All Right With Me,' even though it wasn't my number."

McKechnie will also share memories of the famed Paper Mill production of Follies, in which she was a spectacular Sally Durant. "I love talking about Ann Miller," she says. "She was so nervous playing Carlotta, and she was especially afraid of forgetting the words when Sondheim was in the audience. But she was so wonderful." Now, it's McKechnie's turn to remember all those words: She'll be playing Carlotta in the Barrington Stage production of Follies, June 23-July 16. Fortunately, she has a head start, having done the same role a couple of years back for L.A.'s Reprise series. "You never know about summer stock," she says of the Barrington production, "but I thought this cast is so good that the show will be great even if there's no set and one piano." (Karen Ziemba, Jeff McCarthy, and Lara Teeter are among the other stars). Having now tackled Sally, Phyllis (in London for the BBC), and Carlotta, are McKechnie's Follies days done? "Nope," she replies. "I want to do to all the women's parts. I could do Hattie next week!"

In addition to all of the above, McKechnie will perform some concerts elsewhere around the country, will participate in the 92nd Street Y's Annual Spring Gala on May 23 (a tribute to the late Cy Coleman that will also feature Barbara Cook, Robert Goulet, Judy Kaye, and Elaine Stritch), and will soon begin work on a show for the Public Theater's 50th Anniversary Season this fall: "In honor of Joe Papp, who I first met when I did A Chorus Line, I want to put together an evening with selections from all the musicals that the Public produced, from Hair and Two Gentleman of Verona to The Pirates of Penzance and The Wild Party. I really want Savion Glover to teach me the finale to Bring in 'Da Noise, because I love that music so much. And I remember that Joe used to do this nightclub act at the Ballroom where he sat on a bench and sang Yiddish songs; I need to find something from that as well."

McKechnie may also create a separate act in honor of A Chorus Line, which opened on Broadway 30 years ago this July. How does she feel about the proposed Broadway revival, due in 2006? "I think it's great, because there's a whole new generation of people out there who've never seen it. And I think Bob Avian [the show's original co-choreographer and the revival's director] will make sure it's done well. But I wouldn't want to see it with a whole new concept," she says. "That's why I didn't go to see the Roundabout production of Follies; I just didn't want to see the show deconstructed. I guess I'm prejudiced."

Omar Metwally in Beast on the Moon
(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
A chance encounter led 2004 Tony Award nominee Omar Metwally to his latest project: Beast on the Moon, a well-regarded play about a young man who comes to America in the 1920s after the Armenian genocide. "I ran into the producer David Grillo," says the actor. "I didn't know him, but he told me that he had seen me in Sixteen Wounded and that he was going to produce this play next year. He thought I'd be right for Aram. So I read the script and I immediately fell in love with the play, because it deals with biggest questions that people struggle with -- life and death -- but in a very human and accessible way."

Metwally, who is part Egyptian, knew little about Armenian culture before accepting the role, so there was much work to be done. "I read a lot of histories, memoirs, and fiction about the country," he says. "I also sought out conversations with people whose parents and grandparents had these experiences, which was really helpful. And, early on in rehearsal, we had an Armenian dance choreographer come in to help us get the culture in our bones."

The actor is hoping that this show will have a longer run than Sixteen Wounded, which closed on Broadway after a total of 28 performances. "It was disappointing because we had worked so hard," he says. "At the same time, I had an understanding that this is the nature of the business; all you can do is give yourself some time to mourn and then get back to work. But it was definitely an opportunity for me to be seen by more people than ever before, and it's turned out to be a very positive turning point in my career."

It seemed like it might be a once-in-a-lifetime situation two seasons ago when Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave were both on the New York stage simultaneously (in Long Day's Journey Day Into Night and Talking Heads, respectively). But no! Vanessa is heading to BAM in the title role of Hecuba, June 16-26, while Lynn will star opposite Kate Burton in the Roundabout's revival of The Constant Wife, beginning May 25. Of course, there's already another Redgrave in town: Vanessa's Tony-Award winning daughter Natasha Richardson is currently starring as Blanche Du Bois in the Roundabout production of A Streetcar Named Desire.

It will be anything but the pits for musical theater lovers in Pittsburgh as the CLO serves up a star-studded summer season. Dee Hoty will play Desirée in A Little Night Music; Paige Davis and Robert Cuccioli will star in The Sound of Music; Mark Jacoby will be royally entertaining in The Pirates of Penzance; Alice Ripley will rip into Tommy; and one-time Urban Cowboy Matt Cavenaugh will play Billy Bigelow in Carousel.

The 92nd Street Y gala mentioned in the Donna McKechnie item above isn't the only occasion on which Cy Coleman's music will be heard in those hallowed halls next month. From May 14 through 16, the Y's "Lyrics & Lyricists" season concludes with a tribute to Coleman's beloved songwriting partners Betty Comden and the late Adolph Green. A quintet of Broadway vets -- Walter Charles, Eugene Fleming, Beth Leavel, Paige Price, and Jim Walton -- will perform the pair's brilliant oeuvre under the musical direction of Paul Trueblood.

Broadway may have its fill of movie stars, but some of the theater's most accomplished actors are plying their trade elsewhere around town. Paul Sparks and Jason Butler Harner star in Craig Wright's new drama Orange Flower Water at Theater for the New City; Dee Hoty and Rita Gardner are part of the 46-member cast of Transport Group's inventive new musical The Audience at the Connelly Theater; the multitalented Jana Robbins, who is also one of the producers of Broadway's Little Women, co-stars in the new thriller Fit to Kill at the Harold Clurman.

Coming up: Laura Esterman and Kathleen Early co-star in the Keen Company's revival of the 1924 drama Outward Bound at Urban Stages, beginning April 12; Gregg Edelman, Brian d'Arcy James, and real-life couple Kerry O'Malley and Adam Heller head the cast of Flight, a new drama about the life of Charles Lindbergh, at the Lucille Lortel starting May 8; and Michael Winther stars in the solo musical piece Songs From an Unmade Bed, beginning May 12 at New York Theatre Workshop.


[To contact Brian Scott Lipton directly, e-mail him at [email protected].]

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