RICHARD SKIPPER BRINGS CAROL CHANNING TO THE DUPLEX!
by Jed Ryan, PM Magazine
Carol Channing has plenty of reasons to be happy lately. Yes, "Thoroughly Modern Millie", the movie for which she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in 1967, has just been released on DVD. And, yes, at age 82, ther funny lady became a newlywed again, marrying her junior high school sweetheart. But that's not all! The reason that the Divine Ms. C. has reason to be ecstatic is because her unique comedic and theatrical talents have been celebrated every Monday night over the past month at the Duplex, New York City's oldest continuing cabaret venue located in the heart of Greenwich Village. On June 16th, the immensely talented Richard Skipper continued his loving tribute to the funny lady, in the show that's polished to perfection yet so light and airy that it almost passes by us how detailed and well-crafted it is. This night, Carol's special musical guest was the incredible Sue Matsuki, whose personality and singing ability were perfectly suited for this celebration of music, comedy, and good old-fashioned fun.
Emerging in a shimmering white gown and accompanied by his hard-working pianist John Bowen, Skipper-as-Channing kicked off the evening with "(We Got) Elegance", from "Hello Dolly". The diva wasted no time in endearing herself to the audience as only Carol could, declaring, "I've often said that there's no smile like a New York City smile, and here you are, proving it! You're sitting out here and smiling... and smiling... and smiling... like you have absolutely nothing else to do with your time!" She then poked some gentle fun at some assorted members of the crowd, including a theater reviewer named Martin and a record producer named Kitty (She sure knows how to pick 'em!). Not straying too far from her Dolly Levi persona, Carol moved on to another track from "Hello Dolly" called "I Put My Hand In", and rearranged the seats of the audience. Soon, all the single people were "matched"! She advised the new couples, "You can get to know each other after the show!" We were then treated to some classic show tunes, including "Looking Back" from Channing's 1973 musical "Lorelei", and "Jazz Baby", from "Thoroughly Modern Millie". Indeed, Ms. Channing did a lot of "looking back" that night. When asked by an audience member who her favorite co-star was, we learned that it was George Burns, whom Carol went on the road with as Gracie Allen's replacement. Ms. Channing also recalled some priceless antecdotes about her time in Las Vegas, told some jokes, and threw her "diamond" rings out into the audience for one of her most emblematic songs. Yep, you guessed it... "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend". As always, Mr. Skipper perfectly mastered not only Ms. Channing's distinctively raspy speaking and singing voices, but also exuded the comedienne's sassy yet warm rapport with the audience.
And what an audience it was that night! Present were two very special guests and friends of Carol's: award-winning actress Jana Robbins, and producer Bobbie Horowitz. Ms. Robbins recently starred in the National Tour for "Tale of the Allergist's Wife". Robbins and Horowitz are bringing the life of popular novelist Jacqueline Susann to the New York City stage, in a new Broadway show called "Paper Doll". Speaking about her theatrical career, Ms. Robbins recalled that her most memorable experience was being a stand-by (Don't say "understudy"!) for Tyne Daly in "Gypsy" on Broadway. Robbins' experiences motivated Ms. Channing to reveal, "My dream was to actually be a stand-by!" ... and then the star gave us an original song called "Swing" ("I wanna be a swing, I want to have to learn everything!... Don't want to do the diva thing, I wanna be a swing!") , written by her friend Karen Benedetto. The foot-tapping musical treats continued with the classics "Hey Look Me Over" and "(I'm Just A) Little Girl from Little Rock" (from "Lorelei").
Carol then left the stage, and we were treated to the award-winning, angel-voiced Sue Matsuki. One of the grestest talents on the New York cabaret scene today, Matsuki gave a soulful, richly emotional tribute to her special guy with "Country Man":"I'm right where I want to be, no big city man for me, 'cause I got a man, with a whole lot of energy!" Taking some artistic license with the lyrics, Sue brought it home with "The man I love is Japanese. He's big and tall and, honey, he aims to please... He's as tall as a hickory tree, and he's the right kind of man for me!" Whoa! Matsuki's delivery can definitely renew your faith in the power of a love song. Next, she gave us "one of my favorite ballads ever"-- an ultra-smooth rendition of Frank Sinatra's "Misty". Carol soon re-emerged, now in a shimmering RED gown, and joined Sue for "Shakin' the Blues Away", a song that's guaranteed to lift anyone's spirits. Listening to Ms. Channing and Sue Matsuki combine their forces for the line, "If you are blue, it's easy to, shake off your cares and troub-les!" was one of the musical highs of the evening. Another highlight came when Ms. Channing pulled two "boys" up from the audience to be her dancers: Paul, a burly art dealer who was visiting from Scotland, and a slender NYC guy named Mark, a "full-time socialite". Her choice of song? One of the favorites from "Chicago", with re-worked lyrics: "The name on everybody's lips is gonna be... Carol!"
Skipper wouldn't be able to transform himself into Carol Channing without capturing the legend's non-stop energy, and he nails it. We got to enjoy more essential Carol Channing classics, including "Button Up Your Overcoat"-- "the quintessential song of the '20's"( Ms. Channing acknowledges the '20's as a recurrent theme through much of her career.), and "So Long Dearie", from "Hello Dolly". It was the moments when Carol brought us into her past when the show really became alive. She fondly recalled 1946, when she was "the toast of Broadway", appearing on the covers of both "Life" and "Time " magazines. But no period in Skipper's show that night was more vivid than when Skipper-as-Channing recalled the "Hello Dolly" phase of Ms. C'.s career, in 1964. She recalled how EVERYBODY-- cab drivers, girls at the checkout counter, and others-- were singing "Hello Dolly"'s theme song. Louis Armstrong had a #1 hit with the song as well that year, and Sir John Gielgud called the musical sensation "The American Hamlet".
For a finale, Carol Channing left us with "I'm Just A Broadway Baby". The fact that this feel-good showtune still sounds as good as when it was first heard seems to capture the essence of Richard Skipper-as-Carol Channing: His show brings the talents of a classic entertainer-- and the feel of a classic era-- to a whole new generation to enjoy. And it still looks, sounds, and feels great!