Emily Skinner exuberantly bounded onto the podium of 54 Below Sept. 11 with irrepressible enthusiasm, blithely launching into Fred Ebb's lascivious lyrics to John Kander's "Everybody's Girl." The fan-filled crowd immediately lapped it up, after which there was no stopping this musical comedy diva on a 73-minute spree entitled Broadway, Her Way. The ovation greeting the opening number was so long that Skinner finally blurted out, "It wasn't that good!"
Backed by musical director John Fisher, plus drums and bass, Skinner explained how she began her New York career getting nowhere by auditioning with "Barbara Cook songs," until a helpful rehearsal pianist suggested she avoid comparing herself to Cook. He steered her instead to the obscure Carl Davis/Steven Vinaver "Here Comes the Ballad" (from the forgotten 1958 revue, Diversions). Skinner sang it for us, and we quickly saw why she started getting work.
After explaining that her career has been built on playing "whores, bitches, and blowsy, trashy loud people," Skinner handily illustrated just that with Ursula's big song from The Little Mermaid, "Poor Unfortunate Souls." She then demonstrated her dramatic side with Stephen Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns," Frank Loesser's "I Wish I Didn't Love You So" (from The Perils of Pauline), Fanny Brice's immortal "My Man" and the Vincent Youmans standard "More Than You Know" (from Great Day). She also convulsed the patrons with the Zina Goldrich/Marcy Heisler "Bald" and roused the crowd with Kander and Ebb's "The Money Tree" (from The Act). Skinner highly praised the lyric of the latter, although she did not identify the lyricist by name.
Skinner ended the evening with two treats. First came "Why Do the Wrong People Travel?" which Noël Coward wrote for Elaine Stritch in Sail Away. If anyone should, for some reason, wish to produce Sail Away nowadays, Skinner demonstrated that they needn't look further for their Mimi Paragon. This was followed by a raucous rendition of Mae West's "Come Up and See Me Sometime."
Returning for an encore, Skinner told a poignant story about a theatre district fireman who went to see The Full Monty one month after the Sept. 11 tragedy. She ended her set with the J. Fred Coots/Sam M. Lewis standard "For All We Know." Skinner was in fine form throughout, bubbling over with personality and acting altogether like a hostess shocked to discover that everybody was having a grand time at her party, herself included. She plays her second and final performance of Broadway, Her Way Sept. 12 at 9:30 PM.