Richard Skipper takes his guests seriously.
One might think lightly of cabaret, but don’t be deceived. Richard Skipper has elevated the art into a monthly ritual of celebration and total abundant joy. Richard Skipper Celebrates is currently in the middle of an amazing season honoring such names as Carol Channing and — on March 18 — John Kander. Skipper invites talented leaders of music and art to share stories and tunes with an enthusiastic audience in a lavish theater (the Laurie Beechman in Times Square).
Playwright and reviewer, Anthony J. Piccione sat down with the elegant and charming Mr. Skipper who is NEVER at a lose for words!
So to start off, can you tell our readers in detail about your series Richard Skipper Celebrates, and why you were inspired to start this series?
Richard Skipper Celebrates is all about Positivity and fostering an environment of nurturing all within a theatrical setting. I named the series “Richard Skipper Celebrates” in order to convey to the public my desire to celebrate not only my guest stars but my audience as well. Each and every day there are many positive things happening, but with our brains always on overload be that via social media, 24 hour News Channels, Satellite Radio stations broadcasting the same news on a continuous loop, etc.. we need to sit back and experience the positive things in our life. The William Randolph Hearst Style of Yellow Journalism is taking over our collective experience as a society. TV shows go for the jugular, people are constantly being judged, kicked off of islands, celebrity lives “invaded” by quasi and irresponsible paparazzi, and all for public voyeuristic consumption… No real value here, just negativity….. What we have done, however, is to focus on the positive, and it must be working because people flock to our shows, and for that, I am entirely grateful. I’m sure there is an audience for the “snark” side of things, but that is not my audience. And fundamentally I believe that positive energy will triumph over negative energy…
Your latest upcoming event is a celebration of John Kander. Can you tell us a bit more about this upcoming event, and what audiences can look forward to from it?
We are celebrating John Kander’s 91st Birthday! By we, I mean Donna Marie Asbury who is currently in Chicago. As a matter of fact, after our opening, she has to rush to the theatre for a matinee! She comes to me via David Sabella who was Mary Sunshine in this current revival when it began at Encores and with the transfer to Broadway. He also had a great show last year at The Metropolitan Room called Loopin’ The Loop celebrating his run in Chicago and his association with Kander and Ebb. LOVED THIS SHOW! Saw it twice. In the first show, he had Jana Robbins and they performed a hilarious duet that was cut from The Visit. I asked if they would recreate this and they agreed. They also will each do a solo as well. Jana did Zorba with two separate tours with Georgio Tozzi and Theodore Bikel AND played Sally Bowles in Westchester Dinner Theatre’s production of Cabaret which I saw long before I knew Jana personally! Lucia Spina of Kinky Boots and others did a Kander and Ebb tribute at Feinstein’s three years ago Created and directed by Scott Coulter. Sandy Stewart introduced Kander and Ebb’s first song, My Coloring Book. She will be joined by her son two time Grammy nominee Bill Charlap not only on this but another great Kander and Ebb song. Rounding out the cast is Tony Award winner Lillias White recreating her star turn as Matron Mama Morton in Chicago.
As if that isn’t enough, the afternoon will open with a video montage celebrating the life and career of John Kander. We have a very special video tribute from one of their frequent stars! AND we have a phenomenal band all under the direction of Fred Barton. On Broadway, Fred Barton was Associate Conductor of the 1987 revival of Cabaret, directed by Hal Prince and starring Joel Grey, Regina Resnik, and Werner Klemperer. He also served as Associate Conductor of Zorba, starring Anthony Quinn, as well as the national touring production of Camelot, starring Robert Goulet, and the Los Angeles and national touring productions of City of Angels.That is just the tip for him. He will be joined by Rex Benincasa on percussion, Steve Doyle on bass, and Grammy Award-winning saxophonist, Erik Lawrence.
Recently, you also hosted a celebration honoring the great Carol Channing. Can you share some of your thoughts and reflections on that recent experience?
Well, I’m lucky to call Carol Channing ‘friend’. To me, she epitomizes old-time show business like no one else. We both consider ourselves vaudevillians. Each of my shows is built around a specific date. As I started putting this season, our second, I requested January 31st in order to celebrate Carol’s Birthday. She once said to me that as a Christian Scientist, they don’t celebrate Birthdays. I explained that this wasn’t about her. Birthdays are a day in which friends and family can express what you mean in our lives. Carol told me that was the first time it made sense to her!
As it is with all my shows, I’m always thinking towards the next but this, for obvious reasons, was extremely important to me. This past summer, I saw Jerry’s Girls as part of the Mufti series at The York Theatre. I reached out to all three of the actresses in this show. The only actress who was available was Christine Pedi who I adore. I was thrilled when she said yes. Diane Findley, who is a close dear friend delivered the goods and then some with So Long, Dearie and Before The Parade Passes By. The latter received a rapturous standing ovation. Anita Gillette jumped to her feet and rushed to the stage to hung Diane! Wendy Scherl did an arrangement of Elegance written for Carol Channing’s album, Carol Channing Entertains. Also, from that album, Makin’ Whoopie, which I had requested from her show, New Scherl in Town which garnered her a MAC (Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs).
I then reached out to KT Sullivan who is only the second actress, after Carol, to play Lorelei Lee on Broadway in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. She stopped the show with Lorelei’s signature songs, Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend, and Little Girl From Little Rock. Rounding out the show was the one and only Lee Roy Reams! He sang Penny In My Pocket which was cut from the original Hello, Dolly!, but reinstated for the current Broadway revival. Lee Roy has a long career with Carol. He appeared in Lorelei, the 1977 revival of Hello, Dolly!, and he directed the 1997 Broadway revival.
Obviously, you’ve had a very accomplished and prolific career in entertainment over the years. Do you have any favorite highlights that stand out that you’d like to share?
I know it sounds like a cliche but I’m always looking forward to what next. I have been fortunate to share the stage with some of my idols. Sharing a stage with Carol Channing in San Francisco, interviewing her at Barnes & Noble, the numerous times she was in my audience. Interviewing Lesley Ann Warren to celebrate the release of the restored DVD of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella from 1965 which was an integral part of my childhood, performing at Carnegie Hall and getting a standing ovation that still resonates with me, headlining in three shows at Atlantic City. I’ve been blessed!
In just a couple of sentences, tell our readers why they will have a GREAT time coming to see a Richard Skipper Celebrates event?
It’s a CELEBRATION! From the moment they walk into The Laurie Beechman Theatre, they will be met by a staff that puts hospitality at the forefront of their experience. The brunch is also superb! The preshow playlist is handpicked by me for each specific show. There are balloons all around in the color theme of that show. The next show on Match 18th is Green, John Kander’s favorite color. How apropo , it’s the day after St. Patrick’s Day! Most audience members know that and dress accordingly. That is great for photo ops. When the show begins, the audience is treated to a 10-minute video montage celebrating the subject being celebrated put together by Michael Masci. All of the entertainers have a direct connection to the subject being celebrated and it is more than just each entertainer coming out and singing a couple of songs and off. We have a short chat and this gives the audience a chance to get to know them a little better. The focus of ALL my shows is ALWAYS the audience. I want to give them the best experience possible. After all, they have invested their time, energy, and money. They deserve a great time!
Looking forward, what are some other events you’re working on that we can look forward to?
The next five events: April 8th, we will be celebrating Firsts: Those who’ve created roles on Broadway. Still formulating that cast. So far we have Lane Bradbury who created the role of Dainty June in Gypsy, Marta Sanders who was in the original cast of Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and Annie Hughes who was in Closer Than Ever. On April 15th, I will be celebrating Call on Dolly: From Carol Channing to Bernadette Peters (CallonDolly.com) for The Ziegfeld Society at Hunter College 3PM show. On May 20th, we will be performing An Afternoon with Liberace (David Maiocco) and Friends. Those friends are Leanne Borghesi, Peggy Lee (Chuck Sweeney), Jim Speake, and THOSE GIRLS (Eve Eaton, Rachel Hanser, Karen Mack, Wendy A. Russell). June 9th, for The American Popular Song Society, I’m producing Richard Skipper Celebrates Cabaret and Cole Porter on his actual Birthday. Still putting that cast together. Slated to perform are Sally Darling, Todd Murray, and Leslie Orofino. On June 19th and 20th, Russ Woolley and I are bringing Carole Cook to Feinstein’s/54 Below. I will be ending the Richard Skipper Celebrates season with Richard Skipper Celebrates The Laurie Beechman Theatre showcasing their summer season with a special preview. That is on June 24th.
Any other thoughts you’d like to share?
Yes, Thank you for giving me this platform. Russ and I are hoping to come back for a third season. The audiences have loved this series and I am grateful for that. I’m seeking sponsors! If anyone out there wants to get involved, please reach out to me! I really do hope to do another season but we need to regroup. Please keep in touch with me on Facebook, Twitter, and RichardSkipper.com. Now, go out and do something nice for someone else without expecting anything in return!
All photos courtesy of Jay Michaels Arts & Entertainment