REVIEW: Emily Skinner & Alice Ripley: Unattached - Live at Feinstein's/54 Below
After nearly twenty years of working together, the tremendously talented Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley reunited at Feinstein's/54 Below to remind us all of just how sensational these two are when they hit the stage as a pair. If you are not familiar with the rich performance history and friendship of these two women, I suggest that you take the time to read Jennifer Ashley Tepper's liner notes before listening to the album. I also strongly suggest you familiarize yourself with Side Show, the production that formed the nucleus of the Skinner/Ripley sisterhood of the matching dresses—not because you need to in order to enjoy Unattached, but if for no other reason than it is a fantastic show.
Their new recording, Unattached, opens with Side Show's anthem of sisterhood, "I Will Never Leave You" complete with the women in matching ensembles, setting off a comedic sartorial subplot that continues for the rest of the album. After some amusing banter reminiscent of their marvellous 2006 album Raw at Town Hall, the onstage sisters delight us with a medley of songs about friendship including songs from Gypsy, and DuBarry Was A Lady, and I defy you not to wish you could join in with them, or at the very least have a drink with these two dames. The amazing thing about Skinner and Ripley is that they can make you laugh and feel like you are at a party, and in the next moment destroy you with a raw and poignant torch song.
There is an entire section devoted to the music of 1970s composer Harry Nilsson, a person I must admit I had to Google, but I'm glad I did. Ripley introduces a song from The Point, Nilsson's concept album about a little boy born with a round head in a town where every person and thing has a literal point on it. Ripley says that she thinks the point of The Point is to "embrace radical self-acceptance," inadvertently naming her future autobiography. I am pretty sure that is the most Alice Ripley thing ever, and I love it. She then goes on to sing the gut-wrenchingly beautiful "Life Line," a song of longing and isolation that she delivers with such passion that the stillness in the room is palpable. I must admit it is also not the song I was expecting given the context she had provided!
The album does a great job of showcasing Skinner and Ripley as a duo, but intentionally makes a point of giving each their own moments in the spotlight. Skinner leaves the stage for Ripley to dazzle us with her take on "As If We Never Said Goodbye" from Sunset Boulevard. Then it is Skinner's turn to take our hearts into her hands and crush them with "When It Ends" from LaChiusa'sThe Wild Party, and don't get me started on her rendition of "I Don't Need a Roof" from Big Fish because I am still crying.
As moving as their solo performances are, the show and the album are about them as a duo, and that is where they shine the most. A particularly moving moment is when they dedicate a simple and beautiful a capella rendition of "Tonight You Belong To Me" to Skinner's mother. They also grant the wish of every fan ever when they perform "Bosom Buddies" from Mame (can we get a revival with these two please?!), and tip their hats to the next generation of composers with Shaina Taub's "Reminder Song." They double down on the sister theme throughout the album and tie it up with a bow by ending with Carly Simon's "Two Little Sisters." Wonderful. No, that's just a bit of dust in my eye…
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Unattached: Live at Feinstein's/54 Below - 2016 Emily Skinner & Alice Ripley Raw at Town Hall - 2006 Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner Mame Big Fish DuBarry Was a Lady The Point The Wild Party Gypsy Side Show Sunset Boulevard Michael John LaChiusa Shaina Taub Harry Nilsson Emily Skinner Carly Simon Alice Ripley I Will Never Leave You (4) As If We Never Said Goodbye (30) When It Ends Life Line (2) Tonight You Belong to Me Bosom Buddies (9) Toggle Additional (19)