Richard Skipper as Carol Channing in Concert
nytheatre.com review by Ed Malin
January 5, 2011
Carol Channing’s personality and performances are beloved the world over. “I’ve performed for kings, queens...even Miss Piggy” says Richard Skipper as Carol Channing.
It is great fun to sit in a theatre and listen to (and sometimes be invited to sing along with) songs from such Broadway hits as Hello, Dolly!, Thoroughly Modern Millie, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, along with a three-piece band and a charming diva. Richard Skipper, a veteran of the cabaret scene, perfectly channels Carol. This is done by non-stop storytelling in the famous voice of Ms. Channing, singing songs to patrons, taking said patrons on stage for the odd duet, showing off jewels and occasionally giving them to audience members, and answering questions from the special cards filled out in the lobby before the show. I became part of this experience by asking Ms. Channing how she stays looking so young. It is coming up on her 90th birthday after all, and what a great reason to see this show.
The story of Carol’s life on stage starts when she was helping her mother deliver Christian Science Monitor publications backstage at theatres in San Francisco. The touching story goes forward through ups and downs using some wonderful songs like “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend,” “Before The Parade Passes By," and the unexpectedly funny “Widow’s Weeds.” Was it hard for Channing to play a role envisioned for Ethel Merman? How wonderful was it to be in what was for a time the longest running musical and biggest Tony winner in history? What was Carol’s reaction when Barbra Streisand was cast in the film version of Hello, Dolly!? Actually that question was on a card from the audience, and was petulantly torn up. Later, the film was referred to as a classic “starring Walter Matthau.” This production always goes back to the happy moments. Things are stated very simply, for example “percussion, that’s a fancy way of saying drums” or “heiress, oh that’s a fancy way of saying good time girl.”
Mark Robert Gordon deserves credit for directing this focused, polished show. All the attention is focused on Skipper like a spotlight. If it is not, an audience member is occasionally confronted and what they are accused of paying attention to (instead of the performance) briefly taken away. The band, made up of John Fischer on piano, Jeff Carney on bass and Steve Bartosik on drums, is very spirited. The costume work is wonderful, and Carol Channing was always known for her wigs. A half-dozen larger-than life portraits of Channing adorn the stage and show us the resemblance. The real-life Carol Channing is seen in a photo in the lobby posing with Richard Skipper’s incarnation. Furthermore, the Dr. Carol Channing and Harry Kullijian Foundation has recently advocated to put arts education back into every public school in America and their efforts can be seen in this production.