Additional casting for the Chicago production of Billy Elliot the Musical has been announced. Tony Award nominee, Emily Skinner, will play the role of Mrs. Wilkinson.
Sweet baby Jesus. Mother of Maude Adams. Do you *know* what this means? One of my favorite musical theatre divas will soon be my next door neighbor. Come March 18, only a few blocks will separate Ms. Skinner and me when previews start for Billy Elliot. My office is just a stone’s throw from the Oriental, after all, where the award-winning smash hit will enjoy an open-ended run. We’re practically one blush away from braiding each other’s hair! (That’s a lie: I have no hair to braid.)
What makes Skinner such a delight? For one thing, she’s uniquely talented. Voice, acting, presence, charisma, grace: she has all the essential leading lady qualities. Her breakout role was in Side Show with Alice Ripley (who I profiled here in my very first Diva Friday column), with whom she was joint-nominated for a Best Actress in a Musical Tony. Furthermore, she seems like a bawdy dame who isn’t afraid to laugh loudly and make broad, bold choices. I like that.
She’s a throwback performer, in a way. From the land of vampy and enchanting, where women held court, and men were mere objects. Bigger than life women. Demanding of your attention women. Unapologetic women. In fact, she’s made a career playing these types regionally. As a recent example, reviews indicate Skinner was a mean Mae West when she portrayed the iconic vamp in Dirty Blonde at the Signature Theatre:
She would have been a great Ursula in the Broadway revival of The Little Mermaid. Why she was passed over for the very fine, but strangely cast, Sherie Rene Scott is a bit of a mystery. Apparently, Skinner had been involved with the musical’s development for a while — including workshops and demos. Who knows what happened. But she would have been grand:
Let’s hope La Skinner enjoys a long, healthy run as Mrs. Wilkinson, Billy’s zesty dance instructor and mentor. She deserves major recognition. Can’t wait to see her/it!