March 22, 2003

by Jed Ryan, PM Magazine

    Sometimes, the best things in life come quite accidentally. Take, for example, my recent encounter with Richard Skipper-- one of the most dynamic and talented performers in the theater world today. Through what started out as an ordinary E-Bay transaction, I got to meet Mr. Skipper, chat with him, and subsequently see the illuminating show for which he's become most identified: Richard Skipper as Carol Channing. A Broadway diva, comedienne, and gay icon, Ms. Channing has always had her imitators... but NEVER has any performer taken it to heights as high as Richard Skipper takes it. Skipper's one-man shows have been critically acclaimed, winning two MAC Awards and a Backstage Bistro Award for Outstanding Achievement in Impersonation. Yet the most notable accolades came from none other than Carol Channing herself! She's praised Skipper's show as "the first time EVER I have been shown with such love, respect, and polish." Channing made those comments after Skipper had performed at a surprise birthday party for her.

    At an exclusive, intimate show on March 22nd at the Rockland County Center for the Arts in Nyack (Present in the audience were John Shields, the Mayor of Nyack; Terry Hekker, the former Mayor of Nyack; and two Rockland County Legislators.), Skipper as Channing first appeared for Act 1 in a gasp-illiciting, shimmering white gown, accompanied by pianist John Bowen and an endless supply of energy. There was no lip-synching here... Skipper's vocals were all his own! He successfully nailed not only Carol's singing voice for crowd-pleasing showtunes like "Hey Look Me Over" and "Broadway Baby", but he also superbly captured Ms. Channing's unique speaking voice as well. Skipper also bore an astonishing physical resemblance to the real funny lady. We were treated to a nostalgic collection of many of Channing's best-known tunes, including "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" (in which Carol threw mock diamonds into the audience!), songs from "Hello, Dolly!", and even a new song ("Swing") written just for the show. In between the songs, Carol shared some Channing-esque wisdom ("If the President and Saddam Hussein would begin every day with a show tune, we wouldn't have the problems we have today!"), some advice to the ladies ("Take the jewels out, leave the husband home once in a while!"), and some showbiz anecdotes and recollections. It was at these precious moments-- like Carol transporting us back to 1964 ("'Hello, Dolly!' was being sung by EVERYONE!")-- when the show really became alive. So rarely has a performer been as interactive with the audience as is Skipper-as-Channing. Whether Carol was fielding questions from the audience, pulling two shy guys up on stage to act as her backup dancers, or "matchmaking" the guys and girls in the crowd-- a la Dolly Levy-- for "Just Leave Everything to Me", Skipper showed nothing but genuine love and sincerity for his audience. Occasionally, Carol got to poke some gentle fun at the attendees as well, telling one lady "You're what we used to know as a 'good-time girl'!" and asking a couple, "So, you met in college. Was he the professor?!" One lucky guy got to take Carol home that night... he won a raffle for an autographed copy of Ms. Channing's autobiography "Just Lucky I Guess".

    By the second act, the audience completely believed that the real Carol Channing-- now in a sparkling RED gown-- was on stage. For the finale, Skipper re-worked the lyrics of Channing's most emblematic song and left us with "CAROL... will never go away agan!", to thunderous applause.

    Richard Skipper performs as Carol Channing all over the U.S. and Canada, and his next run in New York City will be on May 5th, 12th, 19th, and 26th at Greenwich Village's quintessential gay cabaret spot The Duplex (61 Christopher Street). Skipper will also be at The Ice Palace at Fire Island on June 22nd. If you're a fan of the legendary Ms. Channing, lover of show tunes, or just want to see how an artist can flawlessly re-create a star's persona from her glory days, this is a must. Check out for Skipper's schedule of shows... and much, much more! What I loved most about this show was that unlike many celebrity impersonations, Skipper never lets his act sink into parody, vulgarity, or cheap humor. His show is not only a loving tribute to Carol Channing's dazzling life and career, but it's also a nostalgic homage to the old-fashioned, feel-good days of the classic Broadway musical... a show that can be savored by all ages and musical tastes today.

    Check back next month when I'll be presenting "Essential Carol Channing", to coincide with the June DVD release of 1967's "Thoroughly Modern Millie". One of Channing's best-known flicks, this musical was reworked for Broadway and is currently one of the hottest tickets in town.