(online review by Charles Wixson)
An Evening with Carol Channing
starring Richard Skipper
with Barry Lloyd on piano
The Plush Room
September 11, 2000
Although other reviewers had consistently raved about "An Evening with Carol Channing" and the quality of Richard Skipper's impersonation, and although Mr. Skipper had very recently won a MAC award for this particular characterization, I was not convinced that I would find a show devoted entirely to Miss Carol Channing entertaining throughout. That, coupled with the memory of having seen both good and not-so-good impersonations over the years, gave me mixed feelings about attending this show at THE PLUSH ROOM (940 Sutter Street -- 415-885-2800). Once the performance started, however, any concerns I might have had were quickly forgotten. The evening was entertaining, amusing and educating, and I was constantly amazed by Skipper's ability; it was a delightful experience involving everyone in the audience.
Skipper constantly brought his character and his fans together. Channing made a grand entrance, greeting people on her way to the stage; throughout the show she exchanged barbs with audience members; she dragged people on stage to assist her; she answered questions; she toured the room to conduct mini-interviews; she made a dramatic departure as she had arrived; and she remained in the lobby after the show to meet and chat with her admirers. Creating such an intimate connection with an audience when portraying a showbiz legend requires an immense amount of energy and acting ability, which Skipper has in abundance, and it is the combination of those factors that makes Richard Skipper one of the top impersonators working today.
Most impersonators stand before an audience and act out a carefully prepared and practiced characterization; Skipper's Channing is quite different because he steps into her personality so completely that he is able to field questions, interview audience members and carry on as could Channing herself. This form of impersonation demands considerable self-assurance and bravery, and must bring heart-stopping moments like those one might experience mountain climbing or sky jumping; any inappropriate reaction to an unexpected comment or situation, or a momentary loss of the characterization could easily result in disaster and destroy the effect of the entire show. Skipper's quick-wit was brought home to me early on when he deftly handled a small disagreement that arose during an interview with an audience member about whether the school Channing and the interviewee had both attended was an elementary school or a middle school. Skipper convincingly responded in character although he had not actually gone to the school himself and could not possibly have been certain of his position. Only a couple of small things (a Dame Edna-like reference to the poor people in the cheap seats at the back of the room and a couple of grimaces that were more like Edna than Carol) seemed to be out of character, but those were minuscule alongside so much outstanding work.
The evening's songs (Skipper's voice is much better than Channing's ever was) reminded us of Channing's hit shows, GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES and HELLO, DOLLY!, and her Oscar-nomination movie, THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE, and provided a good base from which Skipper could provide historical perspective and biographical information. But it is the dramatic size of Channing's persona, not her vocal ability, that forms her essence, and it is Skipper's broad knowledge and kind understanding of her life and personality, as well as his talent for characterization, that allow him to capture that essence and portray Channing's bigger-than-life persona perfectly without ever falling back on artifice or reverting to mannerisms. No sophisticated viewer could fail to be charmed and thrilled by his performance.
During the evening, I repeatedly had to remind myself that this was really not that "other Carol" on stage singing one of her hits, or dragging poor wretches from the audience to assist her, or staggering around the room interviewing guests, or fielding pointed questions as deftly as if she had lived the answers. Due to overuse, the power of the word "awesome" has been considerably diminished in America, but in its full glory it is the one word best suited to describe Richard Skipper's "An Evening with Carol Channing."
Barry Lloyd, very well known to San Francisco audiences as a multi-talented accompanist, performer, songwriter, director and teacher, was Miss Channing's outstanding orchestra. His handsome demeanor, charming personality and fine vocal and pianistic abilities were perfectly suited to Channing, and a score stuffed with music kept him fully occupied throughout the show.
A number of times during the evening, as I enjoyed Skipper's vocal ability and substantial personality glisten through the Channing overlay, I wondered what it would be like to watch "An Evening with Richard Skipper" unfold instead of an evening with Channing. I hope to someday have the opportunity to attend that "other show" -- I expect it to be every bit as entertaining as was this one.
Richard Skipper will perform "An Evening with Carol Channing" on November 20th at 9 p.m. and November 26th at 3 p.m. at DON'T TELL MAMA (343 West 46th Street, NYC - 212-757-0788).