It's Turkey Lurkey Time! Donna McKechnie Shares the Story Behind the Dance

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28 Nov 2013

Michael Bennett

Then, I stumble upon a Youtube video posted by user "THEDOOMSDAYDIARIES." It's a young man (presumably THEDOOMSDAYDIARIES himself) lip-synching to a recording of "Turkey Lurkey Time" while dancing the original choreography, or his best approximation thereof. He's terrific, throwing himself into the moves with gusto and zeal.

And then, I get it. This is my "aha moment." Seeing the movement reduced to one man, a single guy in his apartment, I'm able finally to appreciate that this is all about a human being moving through space and time. I think all these years, the costumes and lights and scenery obscured my view, and all the dancers on stage at once blocked my vision. I couldn't see the forest for the knees.

Just watching THEDOOMSDAYDIARIES all by himself, I can relate to the person executing these difficult steps and leaps and twists and turns and bevels and bends, all so fast and furious and all so fabulously timed to the music. I can't do this number, not by a mile, but I now I can imagine myself trying, and I have a sense of wonder at the people who actually do.

I go back to the Donna video with newfound appreciation. She's a goddess. No, she's not a goddess, she's just a person, like THEDOOMSDAYDIARIES, like me — but look at her go. She flings and floats and flies. She's graceful and powerful and musical all at once. At last, I see the human being, the character, dancing, and it is magical. Musical theatre just opened up for me in a whole new way. I guess choreography always seemed to me like special effects. Belting, I understood. I can't do it well, but I can shout — sometimes even on pitch. Now, I get it! Donna McKechnie is the Patti LuPone of dancers.

I rush to set up a phone call with Donna McKechnie.

Donna explained how, in the show's out-of-town tryout in Boston, "Turkey Lurkey Time" had originally been a very realistic performance by herself and the two other secretary characters, doing a kind of amateur Andrews Sisters bit for the holiday party, complete with homemade costumes and choreographed "mistakes."

"I remember the audience just staring at us," she said. "It was like, out of this wonderful musical so far, this horrible number happened. You know 'Springtime For Hitler'? That's what it was. They were jaw-dropped. It's horrifying when you feel that flop sweat and you're opening out of town."

Following the original performance, McKechnie said, choreographer Michael Bennett assured everyone he could revise the number. She praised his instincts, saying, "I think one of the great things about Michael was that he could have his thumb on the pulse of the audience, even emotionally. And he was guided by his own sensibility. He had made such a great effort to make this realistic, but he realized immediately that it's the first act finale and they needed a big lift up — it's a heightened reality, the musical, and it hit him in the face.


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