Richmond native Emily Skinner is coming home to play the title role in Mame, staged by the Virginia Repertory Theatre from Nov. 21 to Jan. 11, 2015. In 1998, the versatile Broadway actor received a Tony nomination (along with costar Alice Ripley) for the role of conjoined twin Daisy Hilton in Side Show, and in 2009 she brought Mae West to life in Dirty Blonde. An alumna of the School of the Performing Arts in the Richmond Community (SPARC), Skinner received her big break while an understudy for a 1997 Broadway production of Jekyll & Hyde, when lead actor Linda Eder developed laryngitis. Skinner sang the part, and Eder acted. More recently, she portrayed Monique McCandless in the Southern Gothic horror musical Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, by Stephen King, John Mellencamp and T Bone Burnett. While she’s in town, Skinner will teach a master class for teens on musical audition, offered through Cadence Theatre, on Dec. 1 from 6 to 9 p.m.
RM: Auntie Mame, Mae West and Daisy Hilton are larger-than-life characters for which people have their own expectations. How do you express them in your own way?
Skinner: Mame is an iconic piece — there’s a reason people love her and look forward to seeing her — and I love her, too. It’s always a blast playing someone who’s the life of the party [laughs]. All you have to do is live up to that. She’s fun, flamboyant and glamorous, but the heart of the show is her relationship with Patrick. And that warmth is what I’m focusing on.
RM: Mame is a monument to the old-school musical — and also huge fun.
Skinner: Strangely enough, Mame isn’t done that often anymore — it’s got a huge cast, and Mame alone has 12 to 13 costume changes. So an opportunity like this — to come home and do a full production of Mame — you’d have to be crazy not to.
RM: Did you have theatrical proclivities that were enhanced through SPARC?
Skinner: Gosh, those classes were fantastic to me and exposed me to things I would’ve otherwise never known about. It’s one thing to be a precocious kid listening to Broadway cast albums in your bedroom and another to get to perform that music in front of people.
RM: You’ve performed before at TheatreIV/Virginia Rep?
Skinner: I think I made my professional debut at the Empire [now the Sara Belle and Neil November Theatre]. Either in 1977 or 1978 in a production of A Christmas Carol. This may be some weird full-circle thing.