CHANNING PORTRAYAL ENCHANTS AUDIENCE
Paul Lamar/The Daily Gazette
There was a love fest in the Lewis A. Swyer Theatre at The Egg Friday night because Carol Channing -- er, Richard Skipper as in town.
For an hour and three quarters before a large crowd both gay and straight, Skipper brought to life this icon of the American theatre, she of the broad grin and raspy warble. The evening was a pure delight.
After a brief piano overture, ably performed by accompanist James Followell, Skipper appeared in a white dress, platinum wig , and a generous smear of red across his mouth. In a matter of minutes, he was into the audience for the first of many amusing encounters with folks who had no doubt imagined they were going to the theatre to be entertained, not to entertain others.
Skipper kept his eyes and ears open for opportunities to catch a patron off-guard. Woe to the man who tired to slip into his seat after the show had begun; Skipper was onto him like a heat-seeking missile. Moments later, a couple of young guys tried to coot into the back, but Skipper spotted them, and had some ad lib kind of fun.
Truth be told, the script that held the songs together was just okay. It essentially skimmed over the surface of Channing's life, with some additional commentary provided by the songs that Skipper delivered with Channing's characteristic gestures and tremolo.
Skipper also answered questions supplied to him by the audience before the show, but even these little improvisations were not as funny and Skipper's interactions with the house.
It takes a performer with a special touch to involve an audience, and Skipper has it. He brought one person after another up on stage to work with Carol, and with Carol's insightful drollery he poked gentle fun at each one. At the end of the night he had six men and two women performing a kick line while he sang Carol's signature piece, "Hello, Dolly!"
We were all in stitches.
Musically, the highlights were "Before the Parade Passes By," "It Only Takes a Moment" and "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend." In the first two numbers, Skipper captured the dramatic moments with startling poignance. In the last, he worked various women in the audience, displaying their wedding rings, which he termed 'starter kits' compared to the rocks on his fingers.
Pianist Followell provided good musical fill for the moments and erupted spontaneously as well as sensitive accompaniment in the songs.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? In that case, Skipper's impersonation amounted to adoration, and that was fine by the audience that gave him a standing O. Catch him next time he comes around.