Emily Skinner made Broadway history in 1998 when she and Alice Ripley became the first actresses to share a single Best Actress Tony nomination for their roles as conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton in the musical Side Show. Skinner went on thrill New York audiences in The Full Monty, Billy Elliot, Fiorello and James Joyce’s The Dead. On November 13, she’s bringing her one-of-a-kind voice back to 54 Below for a one-night-only encore engagement of her acclaimed solo show Broadway, Her Way. Below, Skinner talks to Broadway.com about her signature song, her feelings about a revised version of Side Show and the amazing role that John Mellencamp and Stephen King wrote for her.
Are you having as much fun as the audience is during Broadway, Her Way?
[Prolonged laugh] I think that question answers itself! I have a blast. I want it to be fun for everyone; I figure the more fun I have, the more fun it will be watching.
How did you come to create this show?
A couple years ago people started asking me to do concerts and cabaret stuff, and I really like it. I like singing Broadway stuff; I love theater composers who are masterful craftsman and lyric-oriented. That’s who I am. I would feel wonky if I came out and said, “Now I’m going to be a chanteuse for you.” [Laughs.] I’m innately a character actress, so I just like to be eclectic.
Let’s talk about your current project, Stephen King and John Mellencamp’s musical Ghost Brothers of Darkland County. Is it fair to call it a horror musical?
It has all the classic Stephen King characters and archetypes in it, and his classic sensibility and sense of humor, but I don’t know if I’d call it horror specifically.
How do you describe it?
The show is basically about these two sets of brothers, and it’s told in flashback between now and the late ‘60s. The contemporary brothers, their hatred of each other is sort of eating them up, and I play their depressive, alcoholic mother caught between all this awful stuff. I know John Mellencamp uses Long Day’s Journey Into Night as an analogy to who I am and my relationship with my sons. And he wrote this wonderful song for me called “Belle Reve," referencing Blanche DuBois and highlights of [my character’s] youth and how everything went awry. Every day I think how lucky am I that I get to originate this role. It’s the kind of role you love as an actor.
Speaking of exciting projects, are you bursting with excitement that the Hal Prince tribute musical Prince of Broadway will finally have its moment in Japan?
Well, from your mouth to God’s ears. We’ll see if it happens; I so hope it happens. It’s such a wonderful show and such a deserving show. I hate that it’s taken so long for it to come to fruition, but it looks like it will. All fingers and toes are crossed.
What iconic Hal Prince characters or musical numbers are you taking on?
It may all change. But last I talked to Hal, I was going to do some stuff from Cabaret, Follies and Merrily We Roll Along.
Do you plan to see the reimagined Side Show?
Oh my God, I can't wait. I’m so excited! I can’t see it at La Jolla, but I’m desperate to see it at the Kennedy Center. I absolutely can not wait.
Will it be strange for you to see someone else play Daisy Hilton?
Oh no, I’ll be thrilled. I have such a love for the show. We were the little show that could. We opened in a season with The Lion King and Ragtime, and we had no advertising budget—Alice [Ripley] and I were standing with flyers at TKTS trying to keep the show alive. We were this little thing that didn’t last long, so the idea that it might come back and have a life and a refined version? I’m over the moon for [composer] Henry Krieger and [lyricist/librettist] Bill Russell because it’s so deserving.
In Broadway, Her Way, you perform songs from Side Show and Full Monty, but is there one number you enjoy most? What’s your signature song?
Probably Mae West's “Come Up and See Me Sometime,” because I have such an affection and appreciation for Mae West. I don’t camp her up; I try to do a truthful homage to her. I feel like no one else is really doing her, so it feels special to me.
Don’t miss Emily Skinner in Broadway, Her Way at 54 Below on November 13, and check out her new web site at www.Emily-Skinner.com