What other location could the title of Donna McKechnie’s bright, brassy new cabaret show, “Same Place: Another Time,” possibly refer to but New York, the city she conquered playing a character based on herself in “A Chorus Line?”
Karsten Moran for The New York Times
Donna McKechnie in her new show at 54 Below, “Same Place: Another Time,” which opened on Wednesday. It includes a quintet led by John McDaniel on piano.
A sortable calendar of noteworthy cultural events in the New York region, selected by Times critics.
Her show had its first performance on Wednesday evening at 54 Below, the club now occupying the basement of Studio 54, the notorious disco she recalled visiting in the mid-1970s when the city was on the verge of bankruptcy. “Plus ça change …,” as they say. Real estate values may have skyrocketed, but showbiz is showbiz, and Ms. McKechnie is still here.
“Same Place” is a cheerful time capsule that begins with “The Hustle,” the 1975 dance hit of the moment, attached to a disco version of “Where or When.” That juxtaposition is one example of the hall-of-mirrors effect in a show that extends the story of her “Chorus Line” character, Cassie, into the present. A quintet, led by John McDaniel on piano, conjures that effect in arrangements that blur musical boundaries.
“Same Place” puts a personal spin on the standard tale of a naïve hopeful who arrives in the city, makes it big and loses her innocence but not her spirit. Now 72, Ms. McKechnie is a quintessential trouper in a lineage that includes Gwen Verdon and Carol Burnett.
Other topics Ms. McKechnie addressed on opening night, but always lightly, included psychiatry, divorce, arthritis and the difficulty of balancing love and work by a woman who jokingly called herself “the all or nothing girl.” The same notion of someone driven to embrace extremes was embodied in “I Never Know When to Say When,” from the 1958 flop musical “Goldilocks.”
The fondest of several warm remembrances was of Marvin Hamlisch, who was a rehearsal pianist when Ms. McKechnie met him and whom she credited with preparing her for her first major auditions.
The show is sprinkled with songs about New York, including Portia Nelson’s “Confessions of a New Yorker,” a bouncy list of urban complaints and pleasures that has hardly aged a day in three decades. For all the upheaval New York has undergone in the nearly four decades since “A Chorus Line,” Ms. McKechnie’s show suggests that its essence hasn’t really changed; it’s the big time.
Donna McKechnie’s “Same Place: Another Time” continues through Sunday at 54 Below, 254 West 54th Street, Manhattan; (646) 476-3551,