Richard Skipper as Carol Channing
Richard Skipper as Carol Channing
You might think that a show made up of a 90-minute Carol Channing impersonation and continual audience interaction has a large potential to irritate. And you might be right -- unless the show is Richard Skipper as Carol Channing in Concert, now at St. Luke's Theatre. Skipper dons the beloved star's familiar red-sequined gown, garish costume jewelry, and blinding lipstick with aplomb.

It's not the dead-on imitation one can hear on Forbidden Broadway cast albums or in numerous piano bars around town. Nor does Skipper have Channing's torrential comic and vocal talent which, in the musical Hello, Dolly!, could twist two short words -- "Eat out" -- into three minutes of uncontrollable audience laughter. What Skipper does have -- a gift he shares with the Tony Award-winning legend -- is the ability to simply set a crowd at ease and give them an evening of pure entertainment.

Under the direction of Mark Robert Gordon, Skipper intersperses stories and jokes from Channing's life -- much of it in her own words -- with favorite numbers from her career, from "Before the Parade Passes By" and "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" to lesser known novelty tunes such as Ervin Drake's "Widow's Weeds." A talented three-man combo led by musical director John Fischer provides spirited support.

And when Skipper converses with the audience, he does so with confidence and snap. The night I attended, one long-married couple was asked to relate the story of how they met. "It takes an hour," the wife responded, to which Skipper, without missing a beat, replied, "It takes an hour? Still?"

Better still, when the performer takes questions from the crowd, written out on cards prior to the show but unscreened by him, he's able to channel answers straight from Channing's biography. You might even learn a thing or two!

The only thing over which Skipper doesn't always exercise control is a somewhat unruly platinum wig, which occasionally gets the best of him. You have to stop yourself from reaching up and brushing the loose strands away yourself.

For tickets and information, click here.