RICHARD SKIPPER AS CAROL CHANNING
Channing’s Lorelei Lee may have had a fondness for precious stones, but Skipper‘s show turns out to be the real gem!
One of the priceless lines from “Diamonds are a Girl‘s Best Friend“ is “Men grow cold, As girls grow old, And we all lose our charms in the end…” Not Carol Channing, who at 90 years young is every bit as lively and charming as a Broadway ingénue. The same can be said for multi award-winning performer Richard Skipper. Skipper has been performing as his icon (and close friend) Carol Channing for years now, and his loving tribute of a show has not diminished in its appeal or its freshness one bit. Skipper’s latest incarnation of his acclaimed show was at Manhattan’s St. Luke’s Theater. How could you not love a performance that begins with a oh-so-priceless variation of that perfunctory theater pre-show warning: “The only type of rings I like are diamond rings. No cellphone rings!“ ? While the band warmed up the audience with an instrumental medley of Channing’s most emblematic songs, we were also treated to a backdrop decorated with poster-sized black-and-white photos from Channing’s 70-year career. In a shimmering red gown and lit to artistically simple perfection, Skipper-as-Channing emerged and declared, “Here you are on my 90th birthday. Don’t I look great?” Yes, ladies and gentlemen… This night was indeed Carol’s 90th birthday.
From Skipper’s selection of music (“Little Girl From Little Rock“, “Broadway Baby”, “Widow’s Weeds”) to the fascinating tidbits about Carol’s life in showbiz that we learn during the show, “Richard Skipper as Carol Channing” is a must for fans not only of Carol, but for theater aficionados of all varieties. We learn that “Hello, Dolly” was the longest-running show in Broadway history, with seemingly everyone in New York City singing those lyrics. We also learn that in 1964, Louis Armstrong’s version of “Hello, Dolly” knocked the Beatles off the charts. As Skipper has told me, his show is miles away from a drag artist “doing” Cher or Judy, for example. Although he captures Ms. Channing’s trademark daffiness and ingratiating personality to perfection, Skipper doesn’t make fun of or parodize Channing like many celebrity imitators do to their subjects. That said, Richard-as-Carol does occasionally poke some ever-so-gentle fun at his audience. Between the songs, he interspersed some lighthearted (and often very funny!) banter with the theater attendees, fielded questions from the audience, and at one point pulled a brawny older gentleman on stage for an impromptu song-and-dance routine to “Bye Bye Baby“. As you may have guessed by now, there’s no “fourth wall” in this night of theater! In attendance that night was Liza Minnelli impersonator Rick Skye, to which Skipper-as-Channing quipped, “It seems like when you’re famous, everyone wants to do you-- oh, that didn’t come out right!” As Carol Channing knew so well, Skipper reminded us that precious moments like these that can only be created in the world of live performance. At another moment, Skipper-as-Channing declared, “I don’t care if you’re Helen Hayes or a seal at Marine Land. Applause is always great!” Needless to say, there was plenty of applause for Skipper. The night climaxed with a eye-popping gourmet birthday cake in honor of Ms. Channing’s big day.
But let’s not forget the music! We were treated to enduring tunes from two quintessential Carol Channing vehicles: “Hello, Dolly” (“Elegance“, “So Long, Dearie“) and the 1967 movie “Thoroughly Modern Millie” (“Jazz Baby”). Heraing lines like: “There are those, I suppose; Think we're mad, heaven knows! The world has gone to rack and to ruin. What we think is chic, unique and quite adorable; They think is odd and "Sodom and Gomorrah"-ble!” will not only make you nostalgic for those classic musicals, but will also remind us how wonderfully the music holds up through the decades. I challenge anyone not to be in a fantastic mood after hearing these songs again. Skipper is also a talented vocalist, and his delivery is smooth and flawless.
Much of how I feel about Richard Skipper‘s homage to Carol Channing can be heard in the lyrics of the songs he sings .”Gee, But It’s Good to be Here”, from the 1956 musical “Happy Hunting”, is exactly how I felt that night. Then, there’s “Elegance”, from “Hello, Dolly”. The song has the lyrics, “We’ve got elegance!”, although he modifies it ever so slightly to “I'VE got elegance”! Exactly!
A portion of proceeds from Skipper’s latest show went to The Dr. Carol Channing and Harry Kullijian Foundation for the Arts. Learn more about this organization and donate at: www.DrChanningFoundation.org. See Richard Skipper's official website, including his performance schedule, at www.RichardSkipper.com.