Regional Reviews: San Francisco
An Enchanting Evening with
Carol Channing came back to her home town for just two nights at ACT's Geary Theatre in An Evening with Carol Channing. No, it is not Richard Skinner, but the charismatic national treasure herself. With her wonderful brown eyes and that one of a kind voice, she still can hold an audience in the palm of her hand.
Producer and interviewer Glen Roven gives a brief introduction before Carol strides out onto the stage wearing a Bob Mackie short, silver-sequined dress showing her gorgeous legs. Her first words are "Hello, I am back in my home town." The audience goes crazy. Love is pouring from the packed house and she gives it right back. You know you are in for a glorious evening of show biz nostalgia.
Carol talks of growing up in San Francisco and how she saw her very first show on the Geary stage at the age of nine. The legend tells how she saw Ethel Waters sing "Supper Time," a song about the lynching of a black man in the south, in Irving Berlin's As Thousands Cheer. She remembers a silhouette of the man hanging from a tree as Ms. Waters finished the song. This was the very first song about what was going on in the south to appear in a Broadway musical. Ms. Channing saw all of the greats cross this stage while going to Lowell High School.
Carol entertains the audience by singing a very clever Russian song, taking the part of father, mother and young daughter begging the parents to let her could go to her very first dance. Channing said she saw a trio of Russian singers perform this song under the agenda of Sol Hurok on this stage when she was nine. She still remembers the Russian words and calls this the "Russian period" of her life.
Channing shares many delicious showbiz stories and dishes many of her friends like Ethel Merman, Sophie Tucker, Ann Miller and the divine Tallulah Bankhead. She gives spot on imitations of these great ladies. I love the story of Ms. Bankhead greeting guests in her apartment with absolutely no clothes on, with the exception of a hat and a pair of pumps. That story gets an X-rating and she told the audience "let's keep that story within the walls of the Geary Theatre." The crowd loved it.
Carol's stories are priceless, including one about how she auditioned "impromptu" before the head of the William Morris agency in New York for her first job. Who else could give as her audition songs a French chant from a Greek play about Orestes or her second choice, a "Haitian Corn Growing" song in the original Voodoo language? The story of how she got the role of Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes when she was appearing as a '20s flapper called the Gladiola Girl in Lend an Ear is impressive. She still sings "I'm Just a Little Girl from Little Rock" exactly how she sang it in the original production. When she sings in her amazing two tone voice with the same inflection on the words "To the one who done me wrong," it is something to savor.
Channing's stories about Hello, Dolly! are wonderful to hear, as she still sings "When the Parade Passes By" and the classic title song from the show (as she kicks up her heels!). Her voice is not as strong but she still can hit most of the notes and still delivers the songs in a big way. The legend ends her singing part by giving out "Razzle Dazzle" from Chicago in a wrong key. She looked back at the pianist Glen and said "I think I sung that in the wrong key."
One of the high points in this 90 minute program is her now famous Ephraim speech from Hello, Dolly!. It is a very touching scene as Dolly tells her deceased husband that she wants to get on with her life.
Carol ends the show on a wonderful and emotional note. She married her junior high school sweetheart Harry Kullijian just two weeks ago. She had not seen Harry in over 61 years and she did not know if he was still alive. After writing a best selling memoir, Just Lucky I Guess in which she mentions Harry, she got a phone call from the gentleman. She was floored. They fell in love again. Harry came out on stage and the two did a charming soft shoe dance. What a magnificent moment.
Ms. Channing received six loud and enthusiastic curtain calls from the very appreciative audience. It was a standing ovation for one of the great legends of our time. This was a night to remember.
An Evening with Carol Channing played April 11 and April 12.