I knew Emily Skinner could sing, enchant and bewitch when she walked onstage, yet I was totally surprised by the transformation that I witnessed at Booth Playhouse last Saturday night. Flouting longtime TV and Hollywood custom, which decrees that women must do their utmost not to surrender to the onset of middle age, Skinner presented herself in Broadway, Her Way as absolutely gleeful to be greeting the dying of the light.
Just four years after portraying the trashy Prudie Cupp in the Charlotte Rep production of Pump Boys and Dinettes, Skinner is embracing the prospect of discarding such zaftig temptresses in favor of Mama Rose in Gypsy, the wicked Ursula in The Little Mermaid, or whatever table scraps Debra Monk will pass her way. Astonishingly, Skinner has the pipes, the technique and the brass to do all those roles right now.
She proved it with Rose's "Some People" and Ursula's "Poor Unfortunate Souls" -- with a hefty dollop of raunchy Mae West ("Come Up and See Me Sometime") tossed in for good measure. Skinner also torched a couple of ballads, "More Than You'll Ever Know" and "No One Is Alone." But she equally relished the comedy of "I Want to Be Rich," "Here Comes the Ballad," and "I Love Them Bald" -- if I have the titles of those obscure gems correct.
Astonishing range. My only quibble with Broadway, My Way was that it was all too brief. An extra 20-30 minutes would have made it my way, too.
SO HOW DID William Eddins do in the Charlotte Symphony sweepstakes? Rather well against the previous gladiator, Edwin Outwater, particularly if we emphasize Eddins' pristine entrance, Charles Griffes' The White Peacock, and his rousing exit, Tchaikovsky's Fifth. We can already say that we will not behold a more athletic contender for CSO's musical director vacancy. Flailing, pumping and stomping, Eddins made damn sure he got the ensemble's attention, driving them to frenzies of electricity, screeching them to dramatic full stops and sweeping up everybody in the hall with his energy.
Principal clarinetist Eugene Kavadlo deservedly took the first bow after this triumph, but I would have awarded a bow to timpanist Scott Christian as well. Oboist Hollis Ulaky was the standout in Peacock, with harpists Bette Roth and Christine Van Arsdale magnifying the magic.
The only letdown, strangely enough, was in the middle of the program, when Eddins casually addressed the house seated on a piano bench before playing the solo part and conducting Mozart's Piano Concerto #25. Some of Eddins' self-effacing introduction rubbed off on Wolfgang, and neither his performance nor the small ensemble's accompaniment scaled the high standard that Christof Perick has established during his tenure in Mozart performance.
Still after enduring the wayward acoustic of Avery Fisher Hall, home of the imperial New York Philharmonic, it was good to return to the excellent qualities of Belk Theater. That music palace could use a serious overhaul, beginning with new carpeting in the aisles. At the lunchtime concert Sue and I attended, people who left the hall in mid-concert left a sonic trail of clopping heels.
And as my knowing dad pointed out, the Fisher doesn't have a working pipe organ either!