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May 22, 1986|SYLVIE DRAKE | Times Theater Writer

She's been in eight Broadway musicals, headlined at the new Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, done benefits for AIDs and appeared gratis for the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, but everyone remembers Donna McKechnie as Cassie, the dancer who needs a job in "A Chorus Line."

The role won her a Tony, and she re-creates it June 11-29 at the Wilshire Theatre for the first time since she created it at New York's Public Theatre almost 11 years ago.

What made McKechnie return to it after such a long time away?

"I miss dancing. I trust Baayork (director Baayork Lee, one of the original cast members)," she said Tuesday from Tokyo where the show is touring. "That's why I decided to do it. I felt the same way she did. It was to be our last dance, even though I didn't really want to disturb the memory of doing it in New York and Los Angeles.

"My life is on the stage in this show," said McKechnie, who also was briefly married to "Chorus Line" creator Michael Bennett. "What I'm starting to appreciate is that now my doing it is more suggestive to others than significant to my own experience. Before, I was too involved with it.

"It started last summer as a tour of a few months--something I'd never done before--then became very powerful, broke box-office records everywhere. We took a hiatus for a few months, started up again and upgraded the production into the one you'll see in L.A."

How is it going over in Japan?

"I love the richness of bringing it to another country and feeling the power of the piece break through the language barrier and reach people. The Japanese are so quiet, so polite--there's no applause. But I'd been warned. It's as if they don't want to disturb you. Outward appearances are very Western, like New York, but underneath, the sensibility is very different.

"All the cliches are true. They love American musicals."

Now isn't it time the marquee at the Wilshire stopped reading "Zorba Coming to the Pantages" and started announcing " 'A Chorus Line' Coming in June"?

MORE MUSICAL THEATERS: It's the domino effect. If Steven Berkoff's "Kvetch" were to move out of Odyssey Theatre III into a contract house, then Pinter's "Other Places" could move out of Odyssey II into Odyssey III. But in this best of all possible worlds things rarely work out that well.

Negotiations are still at a standstill between Ron Sossi, artistic director of the Odyssey Theatre, which produced "Kvetch," and Hilliard Elkins, the independent producer who wants to move it to the Westwood Playhouse.

"It looks like we're going to attempt to move the show ourselves," said Sossi, who claims he's been encouraged to do so by Berkoff's agent, Elizabeth Marton. But it won't be to the Westwood.

His investors, Sossi said, "don't think it's a good bet." It's also too late for a move into the Odyssey's main theater (Odyssey I), which Sossi has been wanting to upgrade into an Equity house.

"There's a scheduling conflict now," he said. "The Coronet is a possibility. And the Las Palmas. That's smaller than the Westwood, more accessible, less expensive."

So, unless things change again, "Kvetch" will run six more weeks at Odyssey III. David Tress replaces Kenneth Tigar (Tigar had commitments in the East). Neither Berkoff, who is in England, nor Elkins in New York could be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, this extension is forcing "Other Places" to close next Thursday (when another show moves into Odyssey II).

Said "Other Places" producer Neil Hunt:

"We were hoping to extend in the same theater, but there was a misunderstanding. Then Ian (Abercrombie, one of the six cast members) was planning to leave and Ethan (director Ethan Silverman) had obtained a job with Michael Cimino which takes him up to October. If it had been a simple extension, all of us could have gone for it--Ethan too. But moving the show into another theater under these circumstances was chancy."

As for Norman Maibaum of the Westwood Playhouse, he's now hoping another Equity Waiver mainstay can raise the capital it needs to move into his theater: " 'Berlin to Broadway' (a hit at the Zephyr) is certainly trying," he said. "They're working on it. They said they'd let me know before the end of the week. Meanwhile, I'm sitting here, like Mickey Spillane, waiting for the phone to ring. . . . "

CRITICAL CONCLAVE: If you find yourselves rubbing elbows with an uncommon lot of people taking notes in the theater this week, there's a reason: Los Angeles is hosting the American Theatre Critics Assn.'s annual convention, for the first time in the organization's 14-year history.

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