Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors
Broadway’s knockout sister act, Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner, are back at Feinstein’s/54 Below, still Unattached!, and ready to raise the roof. Opening and closing with “I Will Never Leave You,” their show-stopper from Henry Krieger and Bill Russell’s Side Show, they deliver a mix of memories, friendship and jolts of smack-talking rivalry.
Side Show won the duo a Tony Award co-nomination but these leading ladies went on individually to remember other shows and favorite pop songs. Catching up together, Ripley and Skinner present a performance that is smooth and seamless, seeming to have a rip-roaring time teasing each other between robust belting and musical wrist-slashing. As they sing in the delightfully sardonic duet from Jerry Herman’s Mame — “We’ll always be bosom buddies.”
Arranged by musical director and pianist, John Fischer with accompanists Michael Croiter on drums and Brian Hamm on bass, the show moves quickly. Medleys and solos highlight each singer’s power, like Harry Nilsson’s “Lifeline” that is passionately rendered by Ripley and Skinner’s elegant interpretation of “I Don’t Need a Roof,” from Big Fish. Their first medley starts off with well-known bouncy salutes to friendship, like Gypsy‘s “Together Wherever We Go” and a sly, “You’ll Never Get Away from Me.” Of course, Cole Porter had his say with “Friendship.” Their harmony is as exact as you might expect, attached or unattached, shown off in sister duo, “Sisters” from White Christmas and “Ohio” (Wonderful Town).
While both singers had been acclaimed in other theater musicals, they admitted they really wanted to do another show together, and number one in their wish list is Follies with Ripley as Sally and Skinner playing Phyllis. One of this show’s most notable moments has Ripley delivering her thoughtfully nuanced, “Losing My Mind.” Skinner builds up an emotional “Could I Leave You?” Yes, Follies would work for them. These two unattached sidekicks were created for a revival of the Stephen Sondheim classic.
Ripley is known for her steamy authority, stirring up every emotion and tossing it out with fiery honesty as she does with Sunset Boulevard’s “As If We Never Said Goodbye.” Skinner’s sound is warmer and rounder, filling her interpretation of Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns” with steady clarity and understanding. Ripley and Skinner are accomplished actresses and singers. Their musical interpretations tell complex stories with binary distinction.
The spirited “Reminder Song” by Shaina Taub ends the show with a raise-the-glass lyrics – “Hats off to everything that leaves a scar/ For reminding me/ Who my friends are.” And for an encore they join in a tender Carly Simon song, “Two Little Sisters” that speaks for sisters in spirit, if not in blood.
Photos: Genevieve Rafter Keddy
Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner: Unattached! runs November 28, December 1, 2, 6, 2017