By Sandi Durell
The Richard Skipper Celebrates series, produced by Russ Woolley, keeps raising the bar. On Sunday March 18, the very personable Mr. Skipper was, once again, at his best on stage hosting at the Laurie Beechman Theatre opening with “Wilkommen.” He was celebrating the inimitable talents and 91st Birthday of John Kander (Kander & Ebb) best known as the writing team of Cabaret and Chicago, along with some of their finest musicals including Zorba, The Act, The Rink, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Steel Pier, Fosse, Curtains, The Visit and the list goes on.
Opening the performances was a congratulatory video by Chita Rivera, followed by some of history’s memorable moments in John Kander’s career. Donna Marie Asbury, currently in the cast of Chicago, provided a taste with “All That Jazz” and a good mantra for up and coming starlets, her own audition song – “Yes.” After a short Q & A with Richard, she was off and running to the theater.
The format of this series allows for performers to do their thing (and this particular event had many fabulous things) and then have a short chat with the host where the audience is privy to some backstage gossip and little known information.
The powerfully dramatic Jana Robbins (who did two tours with Zorba) presented the strong joyful, but dark message “Life Is What You Do When You’re Waiting to Die” seguing into a compelling “I Don’t Care Much (Cabaret).” She was joined by the remarkable David Sabella (who won the Pavarotti Award for Counter Tenor) in the witty acerbic duet – cut from The Visit – “You Don’t Know Me” – a tell all showstopper.
David had many tales to tell about his career as well as his brother’s, Ernie Sabella, before he launched into “Mr. Cellophane” – another showstopper!
With guts and grit, Lucia Spina spun off one of the ultimate story songs, “Ring Them Bells,” following with “Colored Lights” (The Rink).
Giving her all, as she always does, Tony Winner Lillias White is what I call hot stuff opening with “Good to Mama” (Chicago), and oozing sex in “The World Goes Round” – an award winning performance! She is currently readying for Half Time, with director Jerry Mitchell, a new show making its way to The Paper Mill Playhouse.
Tony Award winner Karen Ziemba, dubbed a Kander and Ebb muse, who originated the role of Rita Racine in Steel Pier, sang “Willing to Ride.” She had many wonderful, heart-warming stories about the gentleman John Kander. She and musical director Fred Barton showed off some beautiful harmonizing on “How Lucky Can You Get” (Funny Lady) leaving the audience with the feeling they’d been to several extraordinary Broadway shows in just two hours with some of Broadway’s greatest talents.
The fabulous band included: Erik Lawrence, sax, Rex Benincasa, drums, Steve Doyle on bass.
April 8th is the next edition of Richard Skipper Celebrates, entitled original roles on Broadway and the performers who created them.
Photos: Maryann Lopinto