Broadway musical singer and stage actress Emily Skinner dazzled the crowd at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theatre Friday evening, April 13th, for a scintillating set of 13 songs interspersed with lively and humorous patter. From the moment Skinner stepped onstage, she took full command of the nuances of every song in her set with engaging accompaniment by John Fischer – her pianist and Musical Director. Regally dressed in a stunning black dress, Skinner proved that she has one of the best voices in the business as she cavorted through a cycle of songs that ran from more upbeat belting numbers to more rueful ballads. Skinner is a singer who acts each song and her theatrical gestures and training were superb assets as she sang a variety of well-chosen songs -some sorrowful, some sensual and some audacious and boisterous. After all, she reminded the audience that she is after all ‘a stage actress.’
Skinner, a Broadway veteran of such cult shows as Side Show and more mainstream fare such as The Full Monty and Billy Elliot possesses a beautifully pure and soaring tone that can caress a ballad or slam home a show tune. Her delivery and diction is impeccable and crisp without being arch or formal. In fact, she manages to be both relaxed and authorative in her approach to her songs. This approach made for a charming and natural tone all evening long as she poked fun at the fact that her choice of songs had no unified theme and that she would spend hours entertaining her class in school – as she was very highly influenced by her kindergarten teacher! One of Skinner’s more interesting stories was her experience of working two years in Billy Elliot appearing with a total of fourteen different Billys.
Totally in control through the entire evening, there were –indeed–several musical highlights. Her rendition of “Sleepy Man” from the musical “The Robber Bridegroom” was suffused with a wistful acceptance and peaceful resignation. She recalled that she played the role of Lizzie in 110 in the Shade in college and that she always felt that this show had the perfect book for a musical; with this introduction she launched into a direct and moving renditon of the song “Simple Little Things.” From Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens she mesmerized with a heartbreaking meditation on a loved one lost during the AIDS holocaust in “My Brother Lived in San Francisco.” She built to a torchy climax while belting out “More Than You Know” with moving tenderness and passion.
Emily Skinner is the type of unique and exciting talent that rarely comes along these days and it was a thrilling pleasure to be in her company at the Kennedy Center as part of the Barbara Cook’s Spotlight series.
Now in its fifth season, Barbara Cook’s Spotlight brings perennial Broadway favorites to the Kennedy Center’s intimate Terrace Theater for a host of theater cabaret performances. Upcoming performances will include Aaron Lazar on May 4, 2012, and two performances by the legendary Barbara Cook on June 15 and 16, 2012.