February 13, 2024: Theatre Yesterday and Today, by Ron Fassler.

Some people take their passions to extremes. Theatre people not only take it to extremes; they often take it to the stage. Although he’s been away for some time (and it’s so nice to have him back where he belongs), Richard Skipper returned to the cabaret world in a sold out event Sunday night at the Laurie Beechman Theatre. Known for many years as an expert Carol Channing impersonator, he kept the wig on the block and his gowns in the closet all evening and gave of himself (his true self) unstintingly. With Hello, Dolly! celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, his broad knowledge and ease in front of an audience made for an informatively entertaining show.

Up close and personal with Richard Skipper last night at the Laurie Beechman Theatre.

Skipper’s website “Call on Dolly” is everything you ever wanted to know about the musical but were afraid to ask. His research is extensive and his love for the show, its original creative team, and for the legions who have done productions all over the world are evident with every click of the mouse. Devoting a live theatrical evening to his devotion could seem like overkill, only when it’s Skipper at the helm, it makes for smooth sailing all the way.

Joined by his musical director Dan Pardo on piano and with Matt Scharflass on bass and David Silliman on percussion, the songs sounded terrific and Skipper performed with charm and flair. He managed to do snippets of the majority of the score, often accentuating a classic story connected with the musical. All of it very funny and very clever, its structure aided in good measure by James Beaman, who directed. Skilled use of photos and video were screened throughout, with welcome commentaries from actors connected to Dolly! and its many productions the world over these past six decades.

The versatile Skipper in black and white.

As a special treat, he brought Lee Roy Reams up from the audience to talk about his history with Dolly! which is extensive in the extreme. Based on his friendship with Channing forged during the time they appeared in Lorelei together—the 1973 reworking of her first big hit Gentlemen Prefer Blondes—Channing tagged him to play Cornelius Hackl in her first big revival tour. That Dolly! opened on Broadway in 1977 and later, Reams directed another big tour with Channing. He even played the role himself in a Florida production—the only American actor ever sanctioned to do so. His stories were wonderful and he and Skipper make for a great act. For added fun, Reams performed "Penny in My Pocket," a song for Vandergelder cut from the original production which was reinstated in the 2017 Broadway revival.

Lee Roy Reams joins Skipper onstage for a talk and a song.

It really is a joy to be in the same room with Skipper while he generously shares his vast Dolly! experiences in such a spontaneous way. He does it with no notes and is never at a loss for a quick quip that suits the occasion. As he said early on, “Some people paint, some sew… I do shows about Hello, Dolly!

At the end, Skipper asked the crowd if he should take this show on the road. I can’t imagine why not. Carol certainly would.

Richard Skipper will once again celebrate the 60th Anniversary of Hello, Dolly! in an encore performance on Friday, March 29th at The Laurie Beechman Theatre. For ticket information, please visit: https://lauriebeechmantheatre.venuetix.com/show/details/ITFun9YbPxKbb9B6b8XB/1707696000000

Photos by Ron Fassler.

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Ron Fassler

Ron Fassler is a theatre historian, drama critic and author of "Up in the Cheap Seats: A Historical Memoir of Broadway."