BY ROB LESTER**** Looking for a life-affirming, dazzling performer? Cabaret is a Matter of Life and Seth — Seth Sikes, that is, who brings plenty of life and oomph to his shows! He’s coming back to NYC June 24; Provincetown gets his Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli shows come July and August. On Gay Pride Weekend, Seth gets a slot Saturday night, June 24, at 9:30 pm at Feinstein’s/54 Below, following the last show of Brian Stokes Mitchell’s run. And speaking of “following,” Seth Sikes has quite the following, selling out his shows at the venue which was, in another era, a favorite hangout for Liza– back when it was the infamous Studio 54. His most recent show at the club was a tribute to Bernadette Peters and I was happy to be squeezed in to witness the love fest and see him pass the laugh test with flying colors, making for a mad mix of fun and fan club and and fantastic singing. This time, he’ll be mixing things up, with songs from the repertoire of not only glorious Garland and dynamic daughter Minnelli, and his beloved Bernadette, but also something saluting Barbra Streisand. Talk about a mix of gay icon favorites for Gay Pride. But you’ll also get to know Seth, who mixes in his own anecdotes from his life adventures on diva duty, as director and assistant director, and his unplanned sudden side career as a nightclub entertainer. When we sat down to meet in person for an interview recently, he explained that, although he never thought he’d do more than a one-off night doing Garland songs “as a lark,” he’d had earlier chapters performing, something he thought was very much on the back burner as he pursued directing. (I was first alerted to his talent by Chip Deffaa, who’d cast him in shows years ago, and considers him the best and brightest male performer on the cabaret scene now and includes tracks by Seth on his recently released compilation CD set, The Chip Deffaa Songbook.) But when your first show creates buzz and boffo business, you get asked back again. And again. And again.
So, Seth will return to Provincetown as part of the 2017 Broadway Series season at The Crown & Anchor’s Paramount Theatre. His debut there in 2016 sold out. Seth Sikes Sings Judy Garland, which won the Broadway World’s award for Best Tribute Show in votes cast online by cabaret-goers, is set for Tuesday, July 18 and his set titled Seth Sikes Sings Liza Minnelli will be on Monday, August 7 — show time is 8:00 PM in both cases.
When I asked Seth (who is just as charming off stage as he is on, if that is possible) what kinds of misconceptions people sometimes have when they see his tribute shows mentioned, and don’t know his work, as he’s still semi-new on the scene and doesn’t perform every week, he was glad for the opportunity to clear things up. Some people think it’s something that other shows focusing on female music/movie stars often are. So, here’s what his shows are NOT: It’s not a drag show in any way, shape, or form. He doesn’t wear costumes or wigs or make-up. The make-up of his shows he’s done and is doing are affectionate, loving tributes to stars he admires. Forget bitchy, snide mockery or trying to sing in the voices of the ladies or copying their phrasing and mannerisms. He’s a male, first of all, and isn’t interested in channeling the sounds and stylings and tics and tricks, although love can happily bring about some channeling of the energy and treatments of songs are not about reinventing the wheel that worked so well. While things aren’t slavish, museum reproductions, the arrangements and tempi and general feel are often very much valentines to the spirits of the originals, and fans will recognize that. But it all feels very much celebrational without having that clone tone.
Seeing himself as still in the student-of-cabaret category as the new kid on the block, it was clear from our conversation that Seth Sikes hasn’t let the many YouTube views and rave reviews and “likes” for Sikes online go to his head. He’s diligent in preparation, planning, seeking feedback and advice that isn’t just pat or pats on the back before he goes back to material. He told me about what ran through his head about what worked best whilst he was working the room the first time and doing the work of keeping up the voice and energy in his debut performance. Then he digested it all, talked with trusted confidants, sought direction, and was open to suggestions about what audiences wanted included as must-haves in tributes to the saluted icons. He’s very conscious of what other tribute artists have done, whether it’s Rufus Wainwright recreating Judy Garland’s entire famous Carnegie Hall concert or a more casual or more costumed show to one of the divas.
In Part 2 of this Seth Sikes feature, I’ll go into a lot more of our Q and A session, but let me leave you with two samples of one of this creative man’s very impressive talents. He is also brilliant at creating lyrics set to melodies closely associated with the stars. They’re smart and witty. First, here are his words set to “Liza with a Z” written by Kander & Ebb for Liza to address the problem when people would address her incorrectly as “Lisa” and spell her last name wrong or mispronounce it. Although this sir’s surname is only five lettters, people still get it wrong. So, he commiserates, which provides a song cue.
IT’S SIKES WITH AN I
NOT SYKES WITH A Y
THOUGH SYKES WITH A Y
MAY SOUND THE SAME
SIKES HAS AN I
LIZA HAS A Z
SIMPLE AS CAN BE
IF MY NAME WERE RENNER
I’D BE RENNER
EVEN BACKWARDS I’D BE RENNER
OR IF MY NAME WERE TRUMP
THEN I’D BE TRUMP
BECAUSE WITH TRUMP
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
And when he ventured into telling his own autobiography in song, he turned to what was written by Leonard Gershe for the 1954 film tracing a star’s early year’s for the Judy Garland remake of A Star Is Born, “Born in a Trunk.” HE collaborated on the words with someone whose name really is Liza—oops! I mean Lisa—Lisa Lambert, writer for the show The Drowsy Chaperone. The Southern boy’s beginnings were in Paris— the one in Texas, not in France.
I was born in a truck
Outside Paris, Texas
In the Piggley Wiggley parking lot
They say I came out harmonizing with a coon hound
And was always singing Gershwin on the playground
I grew up on our farm
Outside Paris, Texas
Collecting eggs and milking cows
I’d fetch a stool and pale to catch the milk in…..
Here’s a link to get seats for Seth Sikes in June, but be aware that premium seats are already sold out.