Richard Skipper Is Carol Channing's Best Friend
By Tom Lynch

Richard Skipper as La Channing
Tom Lynch
NEW YORK -- Carol Channing as Mama Rose in Gypsy? I didn't believe it either...until I saw Richard Skipper's new show Carol Channing + 2. Drop any preconceived ideas that you might have. This is no campy drag act. This is real musical theatre. The stage at Don't Tell Mama may be smaller than the stages of the Broadway theatres a block east, but the talent onstage is just as large.

The "+ 2" in this particular party refers to two of Broadway's finest tunesmiths, Jerry Herman and Jule Styne, whose work is being celebrated. "+ 2" also refers to two aditional cast members, Parker Scott and Miles Phillips, who sweated through the August heat working out tough harmonies on a clever Styne medley at rehearsal the other afternoon. Choreographer Susan Matsuki devised smooth moves, and Richard figured out just how Carol would have sounded had she ever replaced Mary Martin and performed Styne's Peter Pan songs at the Winter Garden.

"I want people to have the theatrical experience of seeing Carol Channing onstage" declares Richard. He does that, and a bit more. There is an element of improvisational and interactive theatre that you won't find in the "other" Carol's act. This Carol interacts with the audience creating much mirth in the process. The performer must always be on his toes and react to all audience queries just as Carol might. Audience members may sit down as strangers, but are often friends by the finale.

I asked Richard how long has this been going on? His introduction to Carol wasn't even really Carol. As a kid, Richard saw Lucille Ball impersonating Carol on an episode of The Lucy Show. Not long afterwards he viewed the Carol Channing & Pearl Bailey on Broadway TV special (which was recently released on DVD). As a young man, this southern boy made the journey to NYC to seek acting jobs. But the gift for channeling Carol wouldn't stay hidden.

The original Carol Channing, in Hello, Dolly!
The ultimate test came when Richard found himself face to face with the Broadway legend at an elegant New York party in Carol and Jerry Herman's honor. Knowing Carol would be attending, Richard decided to bite the bullet and showed up in full Channing dress and makeup. "Where did you learn to do this?" were the first words out of Carol Channing's mouth as she confronted him. It was a nervous moment. "I didn't know if she'd throw me out" confesses Richard. He looked Carol in the eye and answered in classic Channing-speak: "Bennington College in Vermont. You do know where that is? It's the lower left hand corner of the map. The part of the state that's always purple." Carol roared with laughter and inquired "How long have you been impersonating me?" Richard countered "Who's to say you're not impersonating me?" From that moment on they were as close as jazz babies Muzzy and Millie in Thoroughly Modern Millie. By the end of that evening Richard performed his show for Carol and the party guests. When she heard his take on Almost Young, a song from Jerry Herman's Mrs. Santa Claus score, Carol even declared to all "I have a new song!"

Richard often performs songs the real Carol never got to do, and you'll hear plenty of them in Friday's celebration of the Broadway songs of Jule Styne and Jerry Herman. Richard is "bedazzled by Broadway" (also the title of an upcoming cabaret show he is directing), and he asks why there is "nothing devoted to New York theatre at the new New York branch of Madame Tussauds." Another pet peeve is his perception that the Tony awards are overlooking "the great stars of the theatre that are still with us."

Current enthusiasms include Valerie Harper in Broadway's Tale of the Allergist's Wife. At the Barrymore the other day Richard reminded a patron steeping on his toes while skipping the curtain call, that "bows are just as much a part of the show as the curtain coming up." You tell 'em!

The curtain goes up on Carol Channing + 2 (directed by Jeff Matson) on Friday, Aug. 10 @ 10pm at Don't Tell Mama (343 W. 46th St.; 212-757-0788) Copyright © 2001, Inc. All rights reserved.