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Richard Skipper is "Carol Channing" In Concert
Richard Skipper as “Carol Channing” In Concert
Director Mark Robert Gordon
Musical Director John Fischer
St. Luke’s Theatre
308 West 46th Street
New York, New York
Ticketing: At Box Office or (www.Telecharge.com) or 212-239-6200.
Mondays at 8PM, Wednesdays at 3PM
Opened Monday, January 21, 2011
Reviewed by Edward Rubin, Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Richard Skipper as Channing # 1 Jan 2011 by Devin Delano
Richard Skipper, the multi-award winning, triple threat actor, singer, and dancer – the guy does everything - has been channeling the "real" Carol Channing in plays and concerts all over the world for some 25 years. If he wasn't such good friends with the 90 year old Channing who occasionally flies around the country with her husband to attend 'Skipper playing Channing' soirees – well, one would think he was a stalker. One thing is for sure, Skipper, like all of us Hello Dolly devotees is in love with Channing. How else to explain his awe-inspiring ability to not only inhabit her legendary voice and her inimitable way of physically holding the air – here, true to life, he captures, from head to face to toe, all of her legendary movements – but to shower the audience to the very last row, with the warmth, love, vulnerabilities and strengths, that have always been Channing's unique calling card.
Mercifully, Skipper is back in New York again and giving his Carol Channing in Concert for as long as the audiences keep coming. Judging from the full houses – rampant word of mouth sprouting hosannas around the city and beyond – it’s going to be a deservedly long run. Skipper's performance, seemingly played to each and every individual member of the audience – it is as intimate as the small and cozy theater that it is being presented in – is a wonder-filled, 90 minute panoply of songs, stories, a dance or two, and riotous adlibs, all backed by a hip three piece band led by the production's musical director John Fischer. The set, rather sparse – the better to focus on Carol – is decorated with a handful of poster size blowups of Channing's best known stage and movie career moments. Holding pride of place on the back wall of the stage, and surrounded by two vases filled with dozens of red roses, is the iconic 1964 photo of the three-time Tony winner, sumptuously gowned in her Hello Dolly best.
From the opening strains of the overture – just hearing the songs that Channing brought to prominence, Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend, Little Girl From Little Rock, and Before The Parade Passes By, to name a few – the audience begins to swoon. Such is the legend of Channing that even before Skipper's Carol takes to the stage, we are already hooked. When Carol does appear she is dressed in a long, tight, shimmering red sequined gown with enough sparkling bling to warrant a couple of body guards. Her hair is platinum, her lips are painted Jungle Red, and her eyelashes reach toward the first row. Clearly an apparition to behold, this Carol is ready to rock. And rock she does for the next hour and a half as she reminisces and jokes, in between singing the songs and telling the tales of her relationships with Jerry Herman (Hello Dolly), Julie Styne and Leo Robin (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) and Betty Comden & Adolf Green (Lorelei). Her early rendition of Sondheim’s Broadway Baby from Follies signals that we are all in for a treat.
Like Dame Edna, Skipper's Carol also likes to interact with the audience. Very quickly she establishes a relationship with a few people at either ends of the front row and returns to them, time and time again, with questions, asides and witty repartees that has the audience rollicking. This Carol is lightning quick on her feet. One lucky audience member, or unlucky if you are a shy one, is unexpectedly brought to the stage to "act" as a foil in a small scene from one of the star's early plays. Of course the audience eats this up. Another interesting part of the performance, which is woven into the latter half of the show, is a Q&A in which Skipper as Carol answers questions that the audience is asked to fill out on a card before the play begins. It is here that anything can happen. On the night that I attended one man asked how she felt when Barbara Streisand 'stole' the movie role of Dolly from under her nose. Looking straight at the guy she tore the question card into little pieces, threw it his way, and said, "I am not going to talk about BS." Again, the audience was rolling in the aisles.
Obviously audience questions differ each night and Skipper has to be on his toes. No doubt, just has he had studied every Channing film and video available, he has probably memorized Channing’s 2002 autobiography Just Lucky I Guess. This night, Skipper's Carol told us that she was married 4 times. Though informing us that she was not going to talk about her first three husbands, she did talk lovingly about number four, Harry her husband of eight years. It seems he was her junior high school sweetheart, who reunited with her after she mentioned him fondly in her memoir. She also talked about her Hollywood screen test for Hello Dolly. Strangely, but perhaps understandable – as she is larger than life – she was found to be too big for the silver screen. Not brought up during this performance, but told in her memoir, is the little known fact that her father was born to a German American father and an African-American mother. According to Channing's memoir account, her mother reportedly did not want [Channing] to be surprised "if she had a black baby." Channing kept this a secret to avoid any problems on Broadway and in Hollywood.
Richard Skipper as Carol Channing. Photo by Devin Delano.
Of course, this is not a perfect world and every once in a while, Skipper dropped Channing's raspy voice when singing and his own surprisingly beautiful tenor sailed across the theatre. At other times, thanks to his platinum hair and full face, he seemed more Marilyn Monroe than Channing. Still, with oodles of charm at his command, more than a dollop of sincerity, and a great set of pipes, Skipper could have sung and acted the telephone book and nobody would have complained. I must add, looking at Skipper under a microscope so to speak – call it extremely close scrutiny, Facial Study 101, or scientific observation – I got the distinct feeling that underneath the dress, the jewels, wig, and makeup, was the makings of a great actor and that the best of Skipper has yet to be seen. Here's hoping my extra-sensory perceptions comes to fruition. At fifty, I think Skipper is ready for his next act. Meanwhile, before he comes out of his dress, I suggest you catch him in this one.
Edward Rubin, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org