Bistro Bits/Barbara & Scott Seigel
"BACKSTAGE BRAVO FOR "AN EVENING WITH CAROL CHANNING"
In Richard Skipper's new show at Don't Tell Mama, "An Evening with Carol Channing," he not only looks and sounds like that Broadway deity, he is, given the venue, unquestionably the Dolly Mama. Skipper sparkles with the glow of Channing's charisma, but the extra shine you see on stage is a product of a diamond-like brilliance that is his alone. That's why the multi-faceted Skipper can create and sustain a riotously funny show that lasts a generous one hour and twenty-five minutes. His forte is an ability to involve the audience without ever losing control of the show. In his capable hands, the act is a riotous interactive experience. He tosses off quips and ad-libs at the speed of comic lightning, but as the jokes rarely embarrass the paying customers, he never loses the affection of the audience. When, early in the show, he sings "My Personal Property," he might as well be singing about the patrons. He's so flamboyantly funny that, as impressive as he is at nailing Channing's singing style, it's his playful patter that makes the evening so acutely memorable.
Structurered as an autobiography, he tells--and sings--us Channing's life story. When she gets her start, for instance, he sings "The Girl in the Show." At a time when she's between shows and hits the nightclub circuit, he sings "Jazz Baby." Throughout the act Skipper milks tunes for laughs, as he does with "Mean to Me," but he can also change the pace to sweetly perform "It Only Takes a Moment." The show features lusty arrangements by the talented David Maiocco, who usually accompanies Skipper. At our performance, however, the superb Mark Hartman stepped in to play the piano on short notice, and his work was such that Skipper never skipped a beat. Add to that the sharp direction of Thomas Morrissey and the amusing backup dancing by Jon Kowalski and Luke Rawlings, and you have an unqualified musical comedy gem. With just the right tweaking, "An Evening with Carol Channing" could easily transfer from its cabaret setting to an Off-Broadway stage. And it should.