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Richard Skipper as Carol Channing in Concert
Channing claims Skipper's portrayal is ".the first time ever I have been shown with such love, respect and polish." and those qualities are evident in Richard Skipper as "Carol Channing " in Concert now debuting off-Broadway at St. Luke's Theatre. A kiss on the hand may be quite continental, but Richard Skipper is this girl's best friend.
An experienced singer and actor, Skipper has expanded his Carol Channing act that began in 1995 at the small 46th Street cabaret, Don't Tell Mama. Still buoyant and fresh, the current one-man off-Broadway show continues to reflect Skipper's careful research of theater facts, anecdotes and dishy backstage gossip that he mixes with theater songs and playful, often ad-lib patter. The result is an affectionate, music and fun-filled portrayal of Carol Channing. Skipper remains staunchly in character, as upbeat as the tune, "Gee, But It's Good to be Herequot; from Happy Hunting. Only once does Carol Channing falter in her good humo. That's when she remembers that other actress, what's-her-name, who stole her Dolly Levi role for the film version. Channing had already lost Lorelei to Marilyn Monroe for the film version of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and maybe once was enough, or maybe what's-her-name was just wrong.
The star glides daintily on stage, head tilted upwards as if searching the heavens through myopic eyes. Pausing before the audience, Skipper's Channing zeroes into the dark, like Dolly Levi zoning in on Horace Vandergelder. He retains the straight Channing stance, holding his hands out in Channing's coy little girl style and bending straight from the waist to talk to random audience members. Channeling her trademark innocence, he asks, "And what's your name? Are you in show business?" Learning that her subject had once played a Mountie in Little Mary Sunshine, Channing asks, "A Mountie? Is that legal" She invited one gent she calls, "Craigie" to the stage amd held his hands while singing "Bye, Bye Baby," When urged to join Channing in a little soft shoe, Craigie was game — though no LeRoy Reams who was in the audience..
The stage features panels with blown-up posters from Channing's roles in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Thoroughly Modern Millie and Hello Dolly. At one point, a panel slipped to the floor in the middle of a song but Skipper never missed a beat, picking up the poster, posing with it, and then tossing it backstage. With diamond-sharp diction, Skipper belts out the classic showstoppers like, "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" and "Before the Parade Passes By." Other show tunes came from productions she could have appeared in, including Follies' show-biz theme, "Broadway Baby," delivered as a matter-of-fact statement without brassiness or wispiness. During numerous recurrent verses of the cynically sassy, "Widows Weeds," Skipper paused to ask, "Are you getting the gist of this, Craigie?" Just as Dolly Levi closed her own show, Skipper's Channing departs the stage and theater singing, "So Long, Dearie."
Directed by Mark Robert Gordon the show is crisply paced to encompass Channing's oversized personality in the space of 90 minutes. A lively three-piece band led by musical director and pianist John Fischer includes Jeff Carney on bass and Steve Bartosik on percussion, although Aaron Russell was the substitute drummer on the evening I attended. They start the show with a toe-tapping overture of trademark Channing songs.
Richard Skipper remembers Carol Channing's unique elegance and as Dolly says, "If you ain't got elegance, You can never ever carry it off." Skipper will make sure this is one legend who remains sparkling as brilliantly as the huge rings which he tosses into the audience with bountiful good cheer.
A portion of the proceeds of Richard Skipper as "Channing" in Concert /i> will benefit The Dr. Carol Channing & Harry Kullijian Foundation for The Arts.