Review: Emily Skinner at Orlando Cabaret Festival

There's a certain kind of a cabaret where the audience just basks in the almighty glow of the diva, awed just to be in her presence.

That's not really Emily Skinner's style, as she demonstrated Friday night on the opening weekend of the Orlando Cabaret Festival.

Skinner's sort of cabaret is more chummy, more "Hey, I'm going to tell you something that just popped into my head." Maybe she'll drop an F-bomb, maybe she'll get an earring tangled in her hair. Whatever, hey, we're all pals here, right?

Opening with a raucous take on the innuendo-heavy "Everybody's Girl" from Broadway musical "Steel Pier," Skinner set the tone right away: A big saucy wink to the audience as she barreled through lyrics like "You won't be disappointed… I'm also double-jointed."

It was also a good choice to demonstrate how her ringing voice can shockingly drop into the basement to great effect.

"That song probably just told you everything you need to know about me," Skinner cracked afterward. And she delivered more than one comic belter during the rest of her set — including the bawdy Mae West classic "Come Up and See Me Sometime."

But there is more to know about Skinner, who has starred on Broadway in "Side Show" and "Billy Elliot." For instance, her mother went into labor with her while watching "Hello, Dolly!"

Oh, wait: That was just one of the anecdotes cheerily shared during what Skinner called an "evening about tangents."

What's actually important for the audience to know is how easily she can switch between comic numbers — a Noel Coward jab at clueless American tourists is a treasure — to more heartfelt, serious singing.

She's just as mesmerizing when she sheds the vamping, stands stock still in the spotlight and delivers a sincere, simple "Send in the Clowns," her throaty laughter giving way to world-weariness.

Or, even moreso in the poignant "My Brother Lived in San Francisco," which showed that along with those thrilling low notes, she's equally at home in her upper range, with a hint of vibrato.

The only time the magic dims slightly is once or twice when things feel too predictable: fake-pointing at the audience during a song about men wearing toupees or some funny business with her pianist, quietly proficient John Fischer.

Skinner doesn't need stage tricks to complement her voice. Her natural charm does that perfectly well.

Emily Skinner

What: Broadway actress performs at the Orlando Cabaret Festival

Length: 1:20, no intermission

Where: Mad Cow Theatre, 54 W. Church St., Orlando

When: 8:15 p.m. Saturday, April 27; 3:15 p.m. Sunday, April 28

Tickets: $35-$45

Call: 407-297-8788


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