By Tom Alvarez, Indianapolis Performing Arts Examiner
May 5, 2013
Commanding the Crystal Terrace Room stage with her effervescence Friday, Emily Skinner gave one of the most magnetic performances thus far in the Cabaret at the Columbia Club’s 2013 winter/spring season. It was the first of a two-night engagement of “Emily Skinner: Broadway Her Way!” for the Tony Award-nominee at what is has become one of Indianapolis’ most fashionable downtown nightspots.
Skinner was accompanied by her accomplished pianist and music director John Fischer. Besides playing regularly for Skinner and acting as her comic straight man, the handsome Fischer also serves as music director for the renowned Jacob’s Pillow summer Jazz/Musical Theatre Dance Program.
Skinner’s most recent credits include a stint in the Julie Andrews’ directed The Great American Mousical and in Stephen King and John Mellencamp’s Ghost Brothers of Darkland County. She also starred in “Billy Elliot,” in which she played the role of Billy’s dance teacher, Mrs. Wilkinson. Skinner was nominated for a Tony for her role as a conjoined twin in “Side Show.” Skinner’s next project is a role in “Prince of Broadway,” a new show by Hal Prince which is scheduled to open soon on Broadway.
Exuding star-power charisma, Skinner dazzled the Cabaret audience with a spectacular soprano voice blessed with a vast range, making it possible for her to hit impossibly high notes — and she did so with relative ease.
The self-deprecating, wisecracking Skinner (who joked that she usually plays “whores and villainesses”) also demonstrated the confident personality of someone comfortable enough with herself to throw out an occasional f-bomb during her engaging banter — without alienating an audience that was instead charmed by her ballsy bravado and lack of inhibition. She’s the kind of performer who can get away with it though, because she backs it up with uncommon talent.
Skinner established her bold and brassy side right off the bat when she opened with Kander and Ebb’s “Everybody’s Girl.” Next she revealed her comic skills with the hilarious “Here Comes the Ballad,” a spoof on musical terms and phrases. Showing how good she is at playing a meanie, she followed up with “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” singing the role of Ursula the sea witch in The Little Mermaid.
Skinner demonstrated her dramatic prowess and her ability to strongly connect emotionally with the audience during “Send in the Clowns,” from A Little Night Music; “No One is Alone,” from Into the Woods; “More Than You Know”; and “My Man,” from the film version of Funny Girl.
Skinner was at her best while belting “When You’re Good to Mama” from Chicago and impersonating Mae West in “Come Up and See Me Sometime,” written by the film star whom she once played in a show called Dirty Blonde.
Showing her softer, vulnerable side, Skinner closed the show with a moving rendition of “For All We Know,” which she sang after telling a touching story about a firefighter who hugged her in gratitude outside the stage door after one of her Broadway performances of The Full Monty.
It was right after 9/11, during the time when tourists avoided New York for months. Because Broadway show attendance was severely affected, tickets were purchased by benefactors and given out to NY firefighters and policemen in gratitude for their lifesaving efforts. Skinner says the firefighter told her that it was the first time he had been able to feel after the tragedy, in which his firehouse lost 13 men.
Skinner reminded the audience about why it is important to support live performance and the Cabaret in particular, saying that it “connects us with our humanity and gives us a safe place to feel things.”
Returning to the stage after a prolonged standing ovation, Skinner and Fischer performed “I Wish I Didn’t Love You So,” a ballad filled with yearning that was written by Frank Loesser and sung by Betty Hutton in a 1947 film titled The Perils of Pauline.
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"One of the best environments for serious music fans in town!"Cabaret Guest