A Re-Staging of ‘Turkey Lurkey Time’ Saved Donna McKechnie’s Job—and Her Road to Stardom

Seth Rudetsky   A Re-Staging of ‘Turkey Lurkey Time’ Saved Donna McKechnie’s Job—and Her Road to Stardom
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth goes behind the scenes of the original Promises, Promises tune, plus stories from Broadway’s Norm Lewis and opera star Marisol Montalvo.
Baayork Lee, Donna McKechnie, and Margo Sappington
Baayork Lee, Donna McKechnie, and Margo Sappington in Promises, Promises

Happy holiday week! I thought it appropriate to post my deconstruction of “Turkey Lurkey Time” which—for some nonsensical reason—is now the subject of a bizarre “Is this a Thanksgiving or Christmas song?” so-called debate. It’s not a debate if there’s no evidence on one side. It is a Christmas song. It takes place at a Christmas party. The only element that‘s Thanksgiving-related is the fact that a turkey is mentioned and people have turkey at Thanksgiving. UGH! This is the kind of thing that gives me a splitting headache. It’s like arguing that because menorahs have candles, “Light My Candle” from Rent is a Chanukkah song. I can’t.

Anyhoo…here’s “Turkey Lurkey Time.” If you don’t know, it’s by Burt Bachrach and Hal David and closes Act 1 from Promises, Promises—featuring the brilliance of Donna McKechnie (who went on to win a Tony Award for playing Cassie in A Chorus Line). I interviewed Kelly Bishop (then Carole Bishop), who is in the number as well (and also won a Tony Award for A Chorus Line for playing Sheila) and she told me that the number kept going through different versions…one version where some of the dancers wore turkey heads! (Click here to find out more about how Michael Bennett and Bob Avian choreographed the number.)

She also said the book by Neil Simon kept getting trimmed and characters continued to be cut down and the people who played those characters were being fired! Kelly felt that Donna McKechnie was next on the chopping block because her character was no longer featured in the script, but suddenly Michael Bennett re-staged “Turkey Lurkey Time” and put her front and center….saving her job and continuing her path to stardom! I actually have two versions of my deconstruction online: the first is from a really fun evening I once did called Obsessed With Julie and Jackie that Julie Klausner (from Difficult People) and her then comedy partner Jackie Clarke asked me to be in.

The second one is from an evening at “Dancers Over 40,” which was dedicated to Michael Bennett. This one goes into more details!

Last week, I was asked to be a guest star in Norm Lewis’ fantastic Christmas show at Feinstein’s/54 Below. I always say this but he has one of best voices I’ve ever, ever heard! You must get his Christmas album! When he asked me to guest star I had no idea what to do and then realized it would coincide with my friend (and comedy partner) Jack Plotnick visiting. I knew it would be a perfect occasion for him to haul out his character Evie Harris and her horrific show, “Christmas Evie.” We had the best time doing it! If you’ve never seen “Christmas Evie”, here’s the version we did a few years ago.

I had opera divas Marisol Montalvo on Seth Speaks, my SiriusXM talk show. Marisol now performs all over the world, but her one-woman-show, Mad Scene, is about her years-long struggle trying to make it. She got into Mannes School of Music as a voice major when she was 18, based on her stunning singing voice, but she had no musical training. Meaning she had no real technique plus she couldn’t read music. Her family was working class and didn’t have money for lessons or the understanding of the importance of training. While most people enter conservatory with extensive music backgrounds in order to play their instruments, you can get into a conservatory with no musical training if you’re a singer because you’re born with a great voice. Well, I’ve known Marisol for a long time and like me, she has ADD. That makes something like learning how to read music when you’re an adult very hard because it requires patience, something someone with ADD does not have. Plus she’s dyslexic! The end of the story is, she failed Mannes and was kicked out. She entered the Miss New York pageant to get some cash and won (!), but she lost Miss America. I asked her for some pageant secrets and she said that you have to wear a form of glue on your butt so your bathing suit doesn’t ride up. I’m trying that on my next Broadway cruise!

Seth Rudetsky and Marisol Montalvo
Seth Rudetsky and Marisol Montalvo

After the pageant, she tried to get work as an opera singer, but wasn’t getting hired so she moved to Europe where she finally started a great career. However, she still didn’t really have a technique and would often lose her voice. She soon began to rely on cortisone shots to help her perform. These shots are amazing as a last-minute option because they allow you to sing…however, even though you sound like you’re in great voice, the cortisone is just masking it and you can hurt yourself. Marisol began a cycle of losing her voice, taking cortisone, and then hurting it more! She was basically addicted. She finally wound up having to have surgery on her cords and she’s now, finally, in great shape. The ups and downs of the opera world, her addiction and injuries, plus being in beauty pageants (!) make up the plot for her one woman show, Mad Scene, which is playing for one night only at Joe’s Pub January 5. There’s tons of opera singing in it…Mozart and 20th Century music and old-school musical theatre songs.

Speaking of mad scenes, here she is in the opera Lulu. After watching this video, I don’t understand
A. Who the dead woman is behind her
B. Why there is what appears to be an airline pilot wearing an oxygen mask on the side of her

I also don’t understand
C. The melody

But take a gander!

Back to Christmas: I went to the annual Chelsea Symphony Christmas concert where they always perform Aaron Dai’s fantastic orchestral setting of Twas The Night Before Christmas. This year the celebrity narrator was Mario Cantone. So fun! I found this video from when Andrea Martin did it. Watch this fabulousness.

The Chelsea Symphony also auctioned off a chance to conduct the symphony and my friend Dev Janki won! Dev and I have known each other since we both moved to New York, and it was so fun to see him up there. Dev began as a ballet dancer and then switched to performing in musical theatre (doing Cats for years) and then directing and choreographing (he directed/choreographed one of my favorite shows Zanna, Don’t!). Watch him here. Even though he’s conducting, you can see his ballet training as he conducts…so “pulled up” as they say! Go see the next Chelsea Symphony concert!

This weekend I’ll be in Provincetown with the amazing Rachel Bay Jones. Get tickets here!

I am constantly surprised by her voice; the range is endless! Here is a song we’re definitely gonna do in our concert:

Right after that, I hightail it to Fort Lauderdale to do my show with Kelli O’Hara January 3. Tickets here.

And then Kelli and I are performing together again in Boston on January 9! Tickets here.

Kelli O’Hara and Seth Rudetsky
Kelli O’Hara and Seth Rudetsky

People keep sending me videos of Kelli performing the amazing opera/country song David Rossmer & Dan Lipton wrote for her, not realizing I did a whole Obsessed! about in 2012!

Speaking of Kelli, when I did my first concert with Kelli in Philadelphia, she asked if we could bring her friend, Kaytie O’Hara (no relation), to the stage to sing. Kaytie had recently recovered from cancer surgery and Kelli wanted to give her a chance to reclaim her voice. I was so impressed with how beautiful her voice was! Then when James and I started doing Concert For America, we asked Kaytie to perform during our concert in April 2017 that featured Barry Manilow. The concert was themed about social justice and Kaytie spoke so eloquently about the need for the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and how it needs to be expanded, especially to include allowances for mental health treatment because dealing with disease is so difficult emotionally. After she spoke, she sang beautifully. Sadly and devastatingly, Kaytie got sick again and passed away December 23. Here is her appearance at Concert For America. We’ll always remember her lovingly.

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