Nearly half of Broadway singer Emily Skinner’s hour long set Friday night at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater was dedicated to broad comic turns. “When You’re Good to Mama” from “Chicago,” “Poor Unfortunate Souls” from “The Little Mermaid,” “I Want Them . . . (Bald)” by Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich: These and more were delivered with zest and winks.
Skinner is funny, so the shtick was well-received, and it seldom seemed like a stretch. With pianist John Fischer serving up loping tempos, Skinner’s saucy innuendo in “Miss Celie’s Blues” and Mae West’s “Come Up and See Me Sometime” was rather like watching her walk through the park.
Not that she wasn’t all in: The cheery Skinner can’t help sparkling on stage, and the audience made clear at the beginning and end how much they adored her. And though Skinner confessed to fatigue — she popped up from Atlanta, where she’s appearing in the premiere of the Stephen King-John Mellencamp musical “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County” — she sounded strong, particularly during the spoof “Here Comes the Ballad.” Skinner maxed out her vibrato, operetta style and delighted in the foolish melodic swoops.
Skinner and Fischer seemed less interested in comedy, though, than in tunes with nuance and heart. The smoky “With Every Breath I Take,” from Cy Coleman’s private eye musical “City of Angels,” was understated and softly sung — alluring, even if it stopped short of the full noir treatment. And there was no lack of drama in the elegy “My Brother Lived in San Francisco,” deeply moving through Skinner’s straight, pure rendering of the melody and the lyrics’ description of loss.
Skinner seemed smitten by the sweetness of the 1929 “More Than You Know,” and in homage to Barbara Cook, namesake of that cabaret series, she sang her encore, “For All We Know,” without a microphone. Skinner and Fischer grinned at each other after these winsome throwbacks, and you could guess what they were thinking: Now that’s entertainment.