DIVA TALK: Chatting with Emily Skinner Plus News of McDonald, White, Egan and Murney

DIVA TALK: Chatting with Emily Skinner Plus News of McDonald, White, Egan and Murney News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Emily Skinner; clockwise: Jacquelyn Piro, Skinner, Nikki Snelson and Michelle Blakely in Have a Nice Life
Emily Skinner; clockwise: Jacquelyn Piro, Skinner, Nikki Snelson and Michelle Blakely in Have a Nice Life Photo by Carol Rosegg

EMILY SKINNER

It shouldn't be too surprising to learn that as an aspiring actress Emily Skinner admired Tony Award winner Dorothy Loudon. Like the late, great Tony-winning Miss Hannigan, Skinner also possesses a beguiling stage presence, a knack for comedy and, of course, a thrilling Broadway belt.

"I always kind of wanted to be Dorothy Loudon growing up," Skinner says. "I thought she was pretty amazing. I never wanted to be the benign, pretty ingénue person, which I thought was pretty boring." Skinner, in fact, has steered clear of ingénue roles for most of her Broadway career, which includes a Tony-nominated performance as Daisy, the more outgoing of the Hilton Sisters in the short-lived cult favorite Side Show, as well as roles in The Full Monty, James Joyce's the Dead and Dinner at Eight.

Skinner was most recently seen as the timid but eventually liberated secretary Agnes Gooch in the Kennedy Center's production of Mame, which boasted Christine Baranski in the title role and Harriet Harris as the boozy Vera Charles. About that experience Skinner says, "It was great working with terrific people, people who continue to amaze you. [Harriet Harris and Christine Baranski] are phenomenal to not only be around but to perform with." About Harris, Skinner also says, "I always thought she was phenomenal onstage, but I never knew her. After working with her, I'm completely in awe of her. She's pretty brilliant. . . . She's really a comic genius, and she can make things that are not funny funny. There are really few people who can actually do that."

Although the summer Broadway transfer of Mame did not happen — there had been rumors of a limited engagement at the Palace Theatre — Skinner says, "there's still talk about [a Broadway run]. I'm not sure [of the details], I just know that it's not completely dead." Whether Mame will return to Broadway remains to be seen, but Skinner will be seen in the Sept. 11-17 engagement of Have a Nice Life at New World Stages/Stage 5, which marks the actress' New York Musical Theatre Festival debut. "They sent me the script and the demo of the music, and I was just very intrigued by it," Skinner says. "This is very much a workshop production, so it's constantly changing and in flux, and I love doing stuff like that."

"The show," Skinner adds, "is about a bunch of people in group therapy, and my character is the one with anger-management issues." Michael Berry, Michelle Blakely, Kevin Carolan, Jacquelyn Piro, Charles Hagerty and Nikki Snelson have also been cast in the new musical, which features a score by Conor Mitchell and a book by Mitchell and Matthew Hurt.

"I don't even know how to describe the score," Skinner says. "It's by this wonderful Irish guy named Conor Mitchell. You listen to the score and there's elements of Kander and Ebb, there's elements of Sondheim. You can hear all sorts of different influences, which is nice — it's not all one tone."

Skinner, who was born and raised in Richmond, VA, began performing as a young child. "I was a stock actress [in Virginia]," she says, "so I've been doing this my whole life. Virginia's what's called a right-to-work state, so many series and films would film down there because they have cheap labor and very good historic locations." She arrived in New York fresh out of college in 1992, and her first job was a workshop of Frank Wildhorn's Jekyll & Hyde, which — five years later — also provided her Broadway debut.

It was during the run of that musical when one evening Skinner was asked to provide the singing voice for star Linda Eder, who was suffering from a cold. "It was very bizarre," Skinner says with a laugh, "because I was in the ensemble, so I would do my track in the ensemble, then run around to a microphone at the side of the stage. [Linda] would be onstage doing her scene — she would speak the scene — but then when she would go to sing the song, I would come on on the mic." Although an announcement was made to the audience prior to that performance, Skinner jokes, "I'm sure the audience was like, 'What the hell is this?!'"

This fall Skinner is also scheduled to perform a concert at Town Hall with Alice Ripley, her co-star in the aforementioned Bill Russell-Henry Krieger musical Side Show. Performing in that musical, Skinner says, was "like [running] a marathon . . . [But] it's great that the show is having a really nice life regionally. It's nice that the show didn't just die when it ended in New York."

For her Oct. 21 concert with Ripley, the belting duo will offer a wide-range of Broadway duets, including many from their two acclaimed CDs, "Unsuspecting Hearts" and "Duets." Concertgoers can expect new material as well, and the Kritzerland label will record the evening live for subsequent release on CD.

Skinner, whose career encompasses work on the Broadway stage and in regional theatres across the country, has this to say when asked if it is difficult maintaining a career in the theatre: "I just sort of do what comes along. I think if you sit and obsess about it, you would drive yourself crazy. I think you just have to enjoy the process of working, and go where the work is."

[Have a Nice Life will play New World Stages, 340 West 50th Street, Sept. 11, 15 and 17 at 8 PM, Sept. 12 and 16 at 1 PM, and Sept. 17 at 4:30 PM. Tickets, priced at $20, are available by calling (212) 352-3101 or by visiting www.nymf.org. Tickets for Emily Skinner & Alice Ripley Sing Broadway! at Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street, are priced $50; visit www.the-townhall-nyc.org for more information.]

DIVA TIDBITS
Four-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald will kick off the 9th season of Lincoln Center's acclaimed American Songbook series, which is dedicated to celebrating the popular American songwriter. On Oct. 11 and 12 McDonald will perform in concert at the Frederick P. Rose Hall's Allen Room. Ted Sperling will lead an ensemble of musicians for the 8 PM concerts, and the second evening will be broadcast live on PBS' "Live from Lincoln Center" series. McDonald — whose latest album, "Build a Bridge," is due in stores this month — will perform many songs from that Nonesuch Records disc during her October concerts. Those in attendance can expect to hear tunes by Neil Young, Elvis Costello, Nellie McKay, Rufus Wainwright, Laura Nyro, Ricky Ian Gordon and Adam Guettel. Tickets for McDonald's concerts will go on sale to the general public Sept. 5. Priced $60-$140, they will be available by calling (212) 721-6500 or by visiting www.lincolncenter.org.

This month Tony Award winner Lillias White will make her debut at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, IL. The former The Life star will appear in three free musical theatre workshop performances of The Princess and the Black-Eyed Pea in the Ravinia's Bennett-Gordon Hall. White, who has been part of previous mountings of Black-Eyed Pea, will be directed by Brendon Fox for the Sept. 15 (at 8 PM) and Sept. 16 (at 2 and 7:30 PM) performances. Black-Eyed Pea features book and lyrics by Karole Foreman and music by Andrew Chukerman and is described as "a soulful resetting of the Hans Christian Anderson tale as an African-American fable." The Ravinia is located at Lake-Cook and Green Bay roads in Highland Park, IL. For ticket information call (847) 266-5100 or visit www.ravinia.org.

Broadway's original Belle, Susan Egan, will play Manhattan's new cabaret space, the Metropolitan Room, in November. Backed by musical director Christopher McGovern on piano, Egan will offer her latest act, which is titled "Susan Egan: All Knocked Up." (The actress and her husband are expecting a baby in February.) The Nov. 12 and 13 evenings will also celebrate the upcoming release of Egan's newest solo CD, "Winter Tracks." Show times at the Metropolitan Room are 7 and 9:30 PM. The Metropolitan Room is located in Manhattan at 34 West 22nd Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Cover charges range from $15-$30; call (212) 206-0440 for reservations.

On Oct. 30 the second Broadway Meets Country concert will be held in the James K. Polk Theater at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center. Among the Broadway favorites scheduled to lend their talents to the annual fundraiser are Laura Bell Bundy, Dixie Carter, Michael Cerveris, Eden Espinosa, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Brian d'Arcy James and Julia Murney. They will be joined by such country music stars as Josh Gracin, Raul Malo, Lorrie Morgan, Jamie O’Neal, SHeDAISY and Lee Ann Womack. The one-night-only event, which will feature country stars singing Broadway tunes and Broadway stars singing country fare, will benefit TPAC Education and The Actors' Fund of America. Concertgoers can also expect a few duets, where Broadway and country voices will unite. Tickets for Broadway Meets Country, priced $35-$500, will go on sale Sept. 15 by visiting www.tpac.org or by calling (615) 255-ARTS , ext. 2787. The James K. Polk Theater at TPAC is located at 505 Deaderick Street in Nashville, TN.

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.