Donna won a Tony for her performance in A Chorus Line.
Dark Shadows Characters:
Amanda Harris/Olivia Corey
Appeared in: 40 episodes
First episode: # 812, August 5, 1969
Last episode: # 934, January 22, 1970
Born: Detroit, Michigan; November 1940
After seeing the film The Red Shoes, Donna McKechnie took her first ballet class at age 7, in her hometown of Detroit, Michigan. 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."
She dropped out of school at 15 and ran away to New York City, much to her parents' dismay.
"It was a very hard thing for me to do," she wrote later. "It was shocking; it was worse than getting a divorce."
The determined young dancer found work fairly quickily, in a tour of West Side Story. She then debuted on Broadway in 1961 in the orignal production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. On TV, she appeared on the dance series Hullabaloo (from 1966 to 1967).
On the set of Hullabaloo, she met fellow dancer Michael Bennett, who became a close friend, and later her lover. He cast her in Promises, Promises in 1968, and in 1970 she co-starred in Company, which he choreographed.
Micheal directed A Chorus Line in 1975, and cast Donna as Cassie, an aging dancer who shows up at an audition being held by her former lover, a prominent director. She begs for a chance to join the cast he's assembling.
The role won Donna a Tony, and she and Michael got married (she'd been wed briefly once before-in 1965). The marriage lasted a little over a year, and the divorce stalled her career.
"I couldn't get an audition for a year," she recalled. "None of Michael Bennett's business partners wanted to make him uncomfortable by casting me."
She faded from the stage scene due to illness: In 1979, she was nearly paralyzed by rheumatoid arthritis. Her doctors told her she might never walk again, let alone dance. She later rebonded, crediting psychotherapy and proper nutrition. During her year-long self-exploration through theraphy, Donna learned that she was still living with guilt for running away from home and picking a non-traditional a career path. This realaztion helped her heal physically and emotionally, as she made peace with her life choices.
"My girlfriends now from Michigan have grandchildren," she told The New York Times in 1996. "I see the other road. I felt guilty about it for too many years. I finally accepted that there's room for a lot of different people in this world and people who bring different things, and if I'm one of them, why aren't I celebrating it?
In 1980, Donna moved to L.A., to raise her TV profile. She guest-starred on several series including Cheers (1981) Family Ties (1983), Fame (1985) and Kate Jackson's Scarecrow and Mrs. King (1985). She also toured throughout the U.S. and internationally in musicals.
When McKechnie returned to A Chorus Line in 1983 at age 43, again playing the desperate, aging Cassie, many newspaper and magazine articles called it a case of life imitating art. However Donna still wowed critcs and audiences with her moves. "[She] dances as beautifully as ever-and perhaps more urgently," wrote Frank Rich of The New York Times, "[inducing] a shiver that comes when performer, role and theatrical history all merge into a poignant one."
Donna moved back to New York in 1992 and was in a quick-closing flop called Cut the Ribons. The next year, she had a leading role off-Broadway in Annie Warbucks (the sequel to Annie), which also had a short run.
Broadway dance legend Gwen Verdon, one of Donna's idols, told The New York Times why Donna was still a good dancer, moving into her 50s. "She's an actor-dancer," Gwen said. "She knows it's not just steps. Thre's an emotional quality to every dance."
Following a tour in the musical State Fair, in 1996, Donna returned to Broadway in the show, playing Emily Arden, a big band singer and dancer intent on making her way from the Iowa State Fair to New York City. Also in the show were John Davidson and Andrea (Annie) McArdle.
Once asked if she would someday write a book about her stage experiences, Donna said no, instead she'd make a musical about her life. In the late 1990s, she began work on that-creating a cabaret show The New York Times in 2001 called "a winning hour of song, dance and reminisceneas she re-enacts the most celebrated moments from her career."
DAYTIME TV: CBS Morning Show (1990).
PRIMETIME TV: Our World (1986), Scarecrow and Mrs. King (1986), Great Performances (1985), MacGruder and Loud (1985), Dance Fever (1985), Cheers (Debra, 1983), Family Ties, Fame (1984, 1985), Kings Crossing (1982), Fairye Tale Theater, Kraft Music Hall Special (1978), Hotel 1990 (1973), I'm a Fan (1972), Laugh In (1967), Hullabaloo (1968), Tonight Show, Pearl Bailey Show.
TV FILMS: Breaking Through (1985), Twirl (Louise Jordan, 1981), Aladdin.
TV COMMERCIAL: Maybelline.
SCREEN: Billie (choreographed, 1965), The Little Prince (Rose, 1975).
THEATER: No Way To Treat A Lady (London, 1998), Sweet Charity (New York, 1998), Follies (Sally Durant Plummer, 1998), Inside The Music (one woman show, London, San Francisco), Annie Warbucks, On Broadway (1990, Hartford, CT), Can-Can (1988-89, London), Annie Get Your Gun (1988, Santa Barbara, San Francisco), One-Woman Cabaret Show (1986, L.A.), Filmex Spring Night at Mann's Chinese Theater (1985, L.A.), Get Happy (1983, L.A.), Cabaret (Ohio, 1981), Wine Untouched (1979-80), Potpourri (1977, NYC), The Imaginary Invalid (1973-74, St. Louis), Company (Kathy, 1971, London and L.A.), The Education of Hyman Kaplan (Kathy McKenna, 1967-68), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (Philia, 1964), West Side Story (1963), The Norman Conquests, Music Music (St. Louis), A Horse Story.
TOURS: Annie Get Your Gun (1989, Florida), Sweet Charity (1987, Toronto, Boston, Washington, D.C), A Chorus Line (Cassie, 1986-89, National and Japan).
BROADWAY: How to Succeed in Busines Without Really Trying (1964), Promises Promises (Vivien Della Hoya, 1968-69), Company (Kathy, 1969-70), A Chorus Line (Cassie - Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical, 1974-77, ), Sondheim: A Musical Tribute (also choreographed), State Fair (1995-96).