One Singular Sensation by
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Shortly after we married, in the mid-70s, we had a lot of friends living in New York City and we’d visit often, driving in, staying on the pullout sofa with Paul and Beth. Jeffrey and Susan, residents to this day, always had a pulse on what was au courant. In 1975 they told us about this fascinating, innovative show they’d seen Off Broadway. Soon it was the talk of the town and moved, with great acclaim, to the Great White Way. It was “A Chorus Line”.

Everyone I knew was buzzing about it. It won the Tony Award for Best Musical and the Pulitzer Prize in 1976. I couldn’t wait to see it, but couldn’t get tickets until early in 1977. This was a show for ME, that frustrated actress who never got cast (not that I went to New York, I didn’t have the gumption for that).

I sat there spell bound as each character told their own back story; the heartbreak of rejection – one who finds solace in her ballet class, one who comes out of the closet, one whose dance audition score card always read, “Dance- 10, Looks – 3”, so she got plastic surgery (great song – I still love to sing “Tits and Ass”… get yourself a fancy pair, tighten up your derriere, keep the best of you, do the rest of you!). And the fading star who just wants to work, played originally by the great Donna McKechnie from Royal Oak, Michigan. By the time we got to see the show, she had left for other opportunities, but is on the original cast album, which of course I wore out, listening to it.

We saw the show again when the National Tour came to Boston. It became the longest running show on Broadway at the time, had a long, successful run in London and a successful revival. The movie was beyond pathetic. Actually, I never saw it, but the reviews said it all; they changed the concept and killed the show. DO NOT SEE IT!

Years later, a revival of “Sweet Charity” came through Boston, starring Donna McKechnie. It is a silly show, but we enjoyed it. Great dance numbers, fun music.

We went to the Ritz Café for dessert after. Who should come in with her entourage and sit a few seats away from us but Donna herself. I knew we went to the same high school and heard she was friends with the daughter of my parents’ best friends, so I decided I’d politely go chat. Dan was mortified, “You aren’t really going to approach her, are you?” “Why not? I have a personal connection.”

So I began by telling her how much we had just enjoyed her as Charity (I thought that was a good way to begin). She seemed pleased. I went on to tell her that I, too, had gone to Royal Oak Dondero High School. She seemed genuinely surprised. I said I’d been told that she was friends with Judy Berry, whose parents were my parents’ best friends. Her brow furrowed for a moment. She was digging deep into the memory bank, but had a eureka moment. She remembered and was so pleased that I’d brought her those greetings. I left her alone with her minions after that.

One, singular sensation…

 

 

Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.


Characterizations: right on!, well written

Comments

  1. John Shutkin says:

    What a perfect tag line, Betsy, and a great anecdote about meeting Donna. (And good for you for going over to her!)

    I also saw and loved A “Chorus Line,” especially since, though hardly the performer that you were, I knew enough about the challenging lives and careers of Broadway performers to appreciate just how much the show “got it,” especially getting to know the repertory cast members at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theater as I was growing up — my mother was on the board and I worked there summers. They were all hoping for the big break so they could perform just seventy five miles away on Broadway. (Some of them, like Frank Langella and Susan Sarandon, actually did.)

    Incidentally, I was listening to the Broadway channel on satellite radio in my car this week and they played a cute song called “I Love Betsy” from the musical they made out of the movie “Honeymoon in Vegas” a few years ago. Who knew? So now you, too, are famous on Broadway!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      You certainly had access to great performances at the Long Wharf, John. I’ve never heard of “I Love Betsy”, but I must love it anyway. “Chorus Line”, like “Hamilton” in this current epoch, was ground-breaking and made a difference in the way future shows came to the stage.

  2. Marian says:

    Your story brought back great memories of Chorus Line, Betsy, and I too wore out the album. How fun that you had a connection to Donna McKechnie. Recently I saw her on television, and I think it was an interview that had something to do with a dance show, but dang, now I can’t remember anything else.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Glad that I brought back great memories for you too, Mare. Such a great show. These days, we watch SO much TV that I have a difficult time remembering what I saw, even from episode to episode, so don’t fret too much.

  3. Suzy says:

    I too loved A Chorus Line, saw it more than once, learned all the songs. And I agree that Tits and Ass is a fun one to sing, but it is What I Did For Love that is my favorite song from that show – it gets me every time! I made the mistake of buying the movie on video when Tower Records was going out of business. It is TERRIBLE! It only cost me $5.00, but hey, that money would have been better spent on a frappuccino at Starbucks!

    Glad you went up to Donna McKechnie with your personal connection. While I agree that in general one shouldn’t bother celebrities in their personal lives, here you actually had something to say that might interest her. Too bad for Judy Berry that Donna barely remembered her, but maybe Judy will never find out.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I agree, Suzy, “What I Did For Love” is a better song, but “Tits and Ass” is more fun. You have confirmed my opinion of the movie. As you say, you could have better spent that money on a frappuccino!

      I agree in general that it is better to not bother celebrities (a hard and fast rule here on Martha’s Vineyard), but having that personal connection made my approach a bit different. I think high school was well in the rear view mirror for her and I suspect that she and Judy were not all that close (and might have even been in different grades). I am not in close touch with Judy, but we are in touch. I did ask her about this once (long after my encounter with Donna). I think her mother exaggerated their closeness a bit.

  4. Why not approach her Betsy, you had nothing to lose and a singular sensation to gain!

    (Spoken by one who asked Paul McCartney if I could kiss him in a coffee shop!)

  5. Khati Hendry says:

    I have heard of A Chorus Line, but admit to never seeing it (or the apparently atrocious movie remake) or knowing any of the songs. But it does sound like it really captured the angst of aspiring theatrical stars, which anyone who has ever been involved with theater could relate to. As you said, the perfect show for you, and you are not alone. How perfect later to be able to connect with one of the stars.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I could really relate to it, Khati, and it was revolutionary at the time. The songs were memorable too. You could come out of the show singing some of them! It broke the mold for story telling and revealing the dark background behind the “glamour” of Broadway. It probably doesn’t hold up all that well to scrutiny now (40+ years later), but was shattering in its day.

      • Suzy says:

        Betsy, I think it actually does hold up now. I saw it in Sacramento in 2014 (must have been a touring company), and it was still great! Molly loved it too.

        • Betsy Pfau says:

          Thanks for the confirmation, Suzy. It just tells life stories, which would never grow old. The genre was new at the time, which dazzled all of us, but the music is excellent, so a solid show even now, I’m sure (amazing that it could be butchered in the film adaptation).

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    A great musical. Have seen it more than once and my kids loved it as well. Glad you got up the nerve to approach Donna McKechnie.

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