By Rob Jones
While listening to Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner’s “Unattached, Live at Feinstein’s/54 Below,” I felt like I was sitting in a friend’s living room, enjoying a fabulous evening of songs and laughs, swapping stories. That’s exactly how these two ladies likely intend for you to feel. Their banter is spot-on and tongue-in-cheek as they lovingly jab at each other. There’s an authentic warmth and charisma about each of them, you feel like you’re in the presence of two perfectly matched souls. They compliment and complete each other.
Earning Broadway notoriety and fame for the cult hit Side Show, Ripley and Skinner have lovingly fashioned this tribute for their fans who have never left their sides since the two were joined at the hip as Daisy and Violet. And they truly seem to appreciate and thrive on that. Smartly, Skinner and Ripley begin the evening with “I Will Never Leave You” from Side Show, a song I STILL listen to on repeat and can recall that haunting, chill-inducing performance.
They are the perfect sister act, and here’s why I think their certain chemistry works: there is a rawness to them both. Skinner says of Ripley, after she sings an incredibly rich, heart-breaking rendition of Harry Nilsson’s “Life Line,” “you just leave your blood and guts on the stage like nobody I’ve ever encountered,” and it’s true. The both of them do. And then Skinner adds to that by singing “I Don’t Need A Roof” from Big Fish – beautiful, elegant, with a longing and simplicity to it that this vocalist at the top of her game brings.
It’s so impressive how Ripley and Skinner never seem compete with one another. It’s very difficult to do a duo of anything, the gangsters in Kiss Me Kate, Gold And Goldberg from The Wild Party, the twins from Side Show, and keep it a pair, a team. If one outshines the other, the charm fades, the whole point of it diminishes. Not only don’t Ripley and Skinner let this happen for a minute, they do allow something magical to occur. They add to one another, they lift the other up with their humor, nuance and confidence. That’s what it really comes down to, their confidence and love for the other that allows both of them to shine, together and separately.
Ripley is then left alone on the stage and does a stunning rendition of “As If We Never Said Goodbye” from Sunset Boulevard. I felt like Man in Chair from The Drowsy Chaperone listening to it. Stunning, breathtaking with incredible heart and soul. I have never once seen Ripley perform where she didn’t leave a piece of herself on the stage. I gave her a “Standing O” in my living room.
Then Skinner comes out with a growling, earthy, smoky “When It Ends” from The Wild Party, offering stunning storytelling at its best. Skinner also has the rare gift of knowing when and where to put in some very well placed vocal calisthenics to enhance her interpretation. With all the vocal gymnastics some people do these days, they would do well to take a page out of Skinner’s book.
Then they’re right back at it, adding to a hilarious “Friendship Medley” used at the top of the show a wonderfully cheeky “Bosom Buddies”. I actually said out loud while I was listening “Revive this show with these two! No brainer!” My dog Charlie heartily agreed.
I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the beautifully simple a capella “You Belong To Me,” a tribute to Skinner’s mom. This is such a stunning example of how their voices blend so flawlessly. So simple and gentle, yet so effective.
They end the incredibly pleasing night with the rousing “Reminder Song”. Clearly they’ve been through thick and thin together and this is the perfect tribute. And their wonderful, dissonant encore of “Two Little Sisters” was a beautiful way to end the evening.This is a must have for not only a Ripley/Skinner lover, but anyone who is
This is a must have for not only a Ripley/Skinner lover, but anyone who is collector of and lover of genuine, classic, musical theatre divas. As I sat and listened, it was reminiscent of when I was a kid and would listen to Broadway recordings or live concerts of Broadway stars on my CD player and dream away. Ripley and Skinner are now among the ranks of those legends who still swirl in the corners of my mind.
Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner’s “Unattached, Live at Feinstein’s/54 Below,” is available from Broadway Records. For more information, visit www.broadwayrecords.com.