Friday, March 2, 2018

Cabaret Month: Ricky Ritzel, Ira Lee Collings, Donna Marie Asbury...and MORE!

Nominee: RECURRING SERIES: RICKY RITZEL’S BROADWAY Created and produced by Ricky Ritzel, staging and choreography by Jay Rogers and Aaron Morishita Don’t Tell Mama
George Bernard Shaw wrote, “Success does not consist in never making mistakes, but in never making the same one a second time.”

Happy March 2nd, 2018!
March 2 is the 61st day of the year. There are 304 days remaining until the end of the year.
There is a high wind warning here till Saturday. The current weather is 36 degrees with flurries. March came in like a lamb and we truly do have this proverbial March winds.
Listening to Christine Pedi's show on Sirius XM Radio on the Broadway channel and continuing my Cabaret Month series. This is day three and I'm celebrating a previous MAC Award winner Ricky Ritzel who is nominated for Recurring Series, Ira Lee Collings for Musical Comedy Performer, Chicago's Donna Marie Asbury!
Donna will be appearing in my tribute to John Kander on March 18th! Thank you, David Sabella, for making this happen! You can read more about that at the end of this blog. I hope you will check out ALL of these entertainers. They are all at the top of their craft!

Ricky has been a major part of the current cabaret scene as long as I have. I think he has a couple of years on me.
Ricky Ritzel, Jay Rogers, and Aaron Morishita

Ricky Ritzel
What is it about small, intimate venues that draws you to cabaret? 
It’s not the size of the room or even the size of the stage that matters to me. I’ve seen acts at Madison Square Garden that are basically cabaret shows that felt very intimate. There are rooms that I feel more comfortable than others but no matter the size, it’s up to you as the entertainer to bring the audience in.

How do you give back your art/passion to younger artists and the community?
There’s nothing more fulfilling than giving someone their first experience as an audience with a live performance like cabaret. For novice performers it’s thrilling. When my son died 8 years ago, I knew I couldn't do piano bar shifts from 9-2 or 3am anymore so I felt rather semi-retired.
Then I started playing for cabaret classes with Collette Black. I never had any desire to play for classes before but my comfort zone had become very small and I was friends with Collette for years so I felt safe. It opened up a whole new world for me with these students who were
every age from 20’s to 80’s. Most never had any experience. Retired teachers, secretaries still working etc. Introducing them to the experience of performing live in a cabaret setting is thrilling. Some of them get to be really good!

What is your most useful tool for overcoming a creative block? 
I don't know what a creative block feels like. I have to ‘create’ at least once a day. That could be putting a show together or making dinner or compiling a playlist on the computer.

Erv Raible and Rob Hoskins 

What inspired you to go into this profession?
When I was 6, my parents told me, we were watching the Lawrence Welk Show on TV
and one segment featured the piano player. They said I turned to them and said, ‘I want to do that.’

Do you feel that you are a respected part of the cabaret community? What do you like MOST about the community and what do you like least? 
I’m a very lucky man to have found my ‘niche’ in cabaret. From playing piano bars to doing my cabaret shows, I always felt supported by the people around me and to gain the respect and friendship of the people in this wonderful corner of show business is an honor. There are no more loyal groups than those in cabaret. I do wish the piano bar world and cabaret world were closer again. When Erv Raible and Rob Hoskins ran the show with their bars, piano bar and cabaret rooms were inseparable but the two hardly ever share audiences anymore.

What is one of the achievements you feel most satisfied to have personally accomplished? 
I really can't say there’s just one achievement I’ve done that I could use as the most gratifying.
Receiving awards, playing some amazing places across the US and Europe and working with some incredible people are all very satisfying. If my hometown of Braddock, PA still had a newspaper I’d be happy to see ‘LOCAL BOY MAKES GOOD’ as a headline. Hee Hee.

Why do you do what you do? 
I’ve never really considered anything else since that 6-year-old me said he wanted to do ‘that.’

At what point did you learn about entertainment?

My parents were always very supportive of my choices and always took me to the theatre, movies, and nightclubs. There was never an act that played in there Pittsburgh area from 1964 to 1980 that we didn't see.

with Eileen Fulton
What other activities are you currently pursuing? 
Since my son, Ryan died, my partner, Ted and I make a point of taking two big trips a year. One of them is usually a road trip so travel has become a major hobby for both of us. I joke that I work between vacations. We also have a house with tenants, a backyard, and a dog, so we’re pretty busy.

Ira Lee Collings
Life Is a Song—So, Why Not Sing It!
Don't Tell Mama
The self-proclaimed “Gay Geezer,” Ira Lee Collings, is, at 81, still a work in progress. No matter that he’s been performing since he was a kid on the radio, the old guy is as young at heart as it’s possible to be, and going
strong. Accolades for this MAC Hanson Award winner have been many; he’s been called an imp, an indefatigable optimist, an extrovert and a bundle of energy, among many other declarations of character. Collings is all that, neatly folding these attributes into his persona as an entertainer.  (Marilyn Lester, NightLife Exchange)
What does this MAC nomination mean to you?
I stopped singing for many years and did dinner theatre until that stopped.
I did hundreds of temp jobs for years. I really missed singing so one day I called Sidney Meyer, booking manager of Don't Tell Mama and ask to see him.  After I told him my tale of woe, that when I came  here in the 60's I was told by club owners and record companies that I  was an" obvious homosexual" even though I had a good voice., Sidney said  "Don't you think that time has passed?" and I've been doing my Cabaret act at Mamas for ten years.
I don't remember when I joined MAC  but it was the best thing I have ever done. I've made so many friends through MAC
at the open mic once a month with different musical directors so you can find the right one to work with.
I took the MACtoSchool class and besides learning more about doing Cabaret, I made more friends. Last year when Lennie Watts called me to tell me they were giving me the
Hanson Award for good work that hadn't been recognized, I cried with joy! This year, with being nominated in the musical comedy performer category with Gretchen Reinhagen and Amy Wolk, I am over-the-moon!

Thank you, MAC and Sidney Meyer for being a lifesaver!

What Are You Currently Reading?
I'm now reading Blast the Sugar Out! by Ian K. Smith MD. Why this book? Because I have been going to Weight Watchers for several years and the meetings have become a therapy group. Then we go to lunch! At 82
my reading is limited. Back in the 40's when I started school no one knew about dyslexia. We were thought to be slow or dumb because we had trouble reading out loud. My first-grade teacher Minnie Mouse [that was her name} held me back a year because I had trouble reading out loud.
I  hated her for years and being the youngest of eight, my brothers and sisters called me 'Shorty'. I became Uncle Shorty. God knows what they call me now!
Nowadays, I spend much of my time reading on the internet.

What Is Your Favorite anecdote in this business?

My favorite anecdote happened when I arrived in NYC! I won a talent show in a gay bar, just like Barbra! My prize was to open for the "Queen
of the gay bars singers", Miss Dawn Hampton!
She cast a spell over her audiences. One day I ask her what was her secret? She said, "Singing is."
She was right of course, but it took me
50 years to understand it. I hadn't seen her in many years and two years ago I was waiting in Don't Tell Mama to go on in Mama's Next Big Act and here and here comes Dawn on the arm of a young man who was also in the contest.
I got all excited thinking Dawn was going to see me sing after all these years.
So, I went around to the restaurant part of Mama's to go on and when out of the door came Dawn with the same young man. She had come to see him. She died a few months later.

How do you give back to young artists and the community with my passion and art? 

A close friend asked me once "don't you think you are putting yourself down by calling yourself "Gay Geezer Power"? My art and passion come out of my "Gay Experiences ".
A song I was singing in Mama's Next  Big Act had a line with 'she' or 'he' in it. I was singing 'her'.
Steven Ray Watkins, the Musical Director, said to me "you call yourself Gay Geezer
Power', why aren't you singing 'he'?" Many straight women sing 'she' in their song because that is the way the lyrics were written.
It hit my ear in a  funny way.

What are you currently working on?
I'm working on a show I' calling, as of now. Ira Lee Collings sings love songs.
Some old and some OLDER! The music I've related to started on the radio and TV. My brothers and sisters liked country and western and hillbilly music but I liked pop music. Many of the very old songs had a great effect on me.
I'm so grateful I found John M. Cook for my musical director.
John M. Cook
He came into the Salon one Sunday with my favorite singers, Josephine Sanges. He and I met a few times and
found out we liked working together, Singing keeps me" in the present"
I'm so grateful to have music in my life!

Something I did not ask you about? 
Attitude! I feel it is very important to be open as much as-as possible to all of life. I've met so many wonderful people doing Cabaret. Everyone one of us has a story and
if we can bring our stories to our shows it makes us all better for it.
Donna Marie Asbury
Donna Marie first debuted in the national tour of the Tony-winning revival in December of 1997, then came into the Broadway company in March of 1999 where she plays June ("you've been screwing the milkman") and understudies Velma.

What does being in Chicago mean to you?  
I’m so proud to be in a show that’s more relevant TODAY than it was when it first opened! Of course, it has given me some stability in this crazy business, but I never take that for granted. If you had told me years ago that I would have been with CHICAGO for this long, I would have said you were crazy! But honestly, I love doing this show. It’s become a very important part of my life,

What Are you reading now?
I am reading Can You Stand To Be Blessed? by T.D. Jakes. I actually met him when Brandy was doing our show!

What is your bookstore wish list
Anything by Oprah. Don’t judge!

What is your favorite anecdote that has happened to you in your career? 
I think my favorite anecdote was when I was doing Merrily We Roll Along, and we were about to close. Hal Prince had two tours going out, Sweeney Todd and Evita. He had me audition for the Eva understudy and I ended up getting it, and then moving up to the alternate which means I did two shows a week, along with being in the ensemble, I was 19!!! Insane, but I will always be so grateful to him.

Have you ever considered teaching a class?  
I have taught some classes.

What made you want to go into this business?
The reason I even started dancing was my mom had a friend who happened to own a dance studio. She suggested that she enroll me, and I loved it. Then I’m Italian and loud, and they discovered I could sing. There used to be a show in Atlantic City called Tony Grant’s Stars of Tomorrow . I first met Andrea McArdle there. So every summer from age 7- 10, I would sing and do a jazz dance. I just loved it so much. The first musical I auditioned for was Gypsy with Angela, and I got it!!! I was the luckiest kid in the world. There really was no other choice for me, but to do this!

Who is your chief musical inspiration? 
I would have to say Barbra Streisand and Liza Minnelli! I remember watching Liza with a Z, and for years my audition song was YES, written by John Kander and Fred  Ebb!

A final statement for my blog
I have been so blessed to have been able to make a living doing what I LOVE to do! Life is so short. Find your passion, and hopefully, you can have the best life you can imagine!

Thank you, to ALL who are mentioned in this blog for gifts you have given to the world and will continue to give

Now, go and do something nice for someone without expecting anything in return!

Here are a Few Testimonials for Richard Skipper Celebrates: Next One March 18th 1PM Laurie Beechman Theater:

With Bryon Sommers
I love Richard Skipper so much and his shows are beyond your expectations!!!!!!!
-Rose Apuzzo

I commented on Facebook, but I wanted to write you a personal note to let you know how much my
wife and I enjoyed your show Wednesday night. You are a consummate entertainer! And it was obvious from watching you onstage how generous you are and how delighted you were to offer your talented friends an opportunity to entertain a full and enthusiastic house.
I also loved the opening montage—especially the extended clip from What’s My Line? How cool!
I wanted to reciprocate your support for my York Theatre show last year, but I got far more out of attending your show than I could have imagined! Congratulations!
Best regards,
Charles Troy

We had the great joy to be at the wonderful Carol Channing birthday bash Richard Skipper blessed us

with on 1/31/18. Richard is truly brilliant and through him the great joy that was spread throughout the room was perfection. Thank you again.  Each time I am able to be at his "Celebrations" I feel uplifted and so glad that I was there.
-Bob Diamond, NYC

March 18th, 2018 

Russ Woolley Proudly Presents
Richard Skipper Celebrates
John Kander... On His 91st Birthday!

1 PM Brunch Show Laurie Beechman Theater  

Confirmed to perform are Tony Award winner Lilias WhiteDonna Marie Asbury currently in Chicago on Broadway, Jana Robbins (Zorba with two separate tours with Georgio Tozzi and Theodore Bikel), Lucia Spina (Kinky Boots), David Sabella (originated Mary Sunshine in the current revival of Chicago on Broadway), and Sandy Stewart (My Coloring Book) and two-time Grammy nominee Bill Charlap

With grateful XOXOXs ,


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Richard Skipper,


  1. I can't wait for March 18th! LOVE your blogs. Thank you for giving me the chance to be a part of one.
    Donna Marie Asbury

  2. Thank you, Richard for including me in your blog. What fun! Ira Lee Collings