By ROB LESTER**** With two different variety shows this week, so intertwined are Rick Skye and Liza Minnelli, the legend he plays, we should combine the names and call him “Skye-za.” After all, we had celeb name combos Brangela, TomKat and Benifer, but those couples split up, so let’s re-name a “pair” more inseparable. Cabaret pairings, professional and/or personal deserve some nomenclature but other candidates don’t have quite the right ring: Mark Nadler and KT Sullivan become the negative-sounding “Nullivan” and the married Barbara Fasano and Eric Comstock would suggest rude on-stage behavior if rebranded as “Barberic.” Let’s stick with Rick, who is interviewed today. He’s so generous with his guest stars that I wouldn’t be surprised if he temporarily baptized himself with one or the other. With Friday, December 29’s guest Karen Wyman, the fast-friends pair might be Skyman or Rickaren. There’s another Rick who’s a guest on the 29th – Rick Crom, so, if they did a duo show, we can call either or both just “Rick,” which might also please Mr. Skye’s regular and very ritzy musical director, Ricky Ritzel, and it would be better than combining the two single-syllable surnames into a Sk-Crom-bination to make the tearful syllable of Crye. Or, Rick could more thoroughly combine with the already-one-named Lykken, a New Year’s Eve companion whose debut act he directed and with whom he has a personal bond, to do an actual duo act, but does Rhykken sound right? Well, better than Sikken or Lykky.
But what’s in a name? (to quote another writer). Whether it’s Liza with a Z – or Skye with a Y and a “why not?” This MAC Award winner and sparkling, savvy entertainer has a lot to say and share when we did our interview. So, without further pre-interview ado, I do hereby present Mr. Rick Skye taking his cue for a Q & A session.
Q: What a way to end the year! You’re doing your monthly variety show and then New Year’s Eve a couple of nights later. Tell us about that double dose at Don’t Tell Mama and what you have planned.
A: There is nothing I enjoy more than performing at holiday time – and especially on New Year’s Eve. I like to let the Universe know that I’d like more performing opportunities in the coming year. Plus, the crowds are always in the mood to have a good time, so it kicks the evening off to a great start. I have high powered guest stars for these final two shows of the year and we will end New Year’s Eve at midnight with a champagne toast and mingle with the party-goers.
Q: You’ve got a couple of episodes of your variety series under your sequined belt now. I saw the second one and was thoroughly entertained. How are the format and structure morphing after the first two rounds and how will this December installment benefit from 20/20 hindsight?
A: I’ve been cutting back on my solo numbers so that I can put in new numbers with the boys. I bring the production numbers to the format and get to perform with the musical guest. The most important segment of the show for me for is the duet with the guest and this time I’ve gone all out and had Dan Furman lift the Ethel Merman/Judy Garland duet from The Judy Garland Show for me and Karen Wyman to belt out. We are having a ball rehearsing and I’m sure the audience will have a ball watching us.
Q: Karen Wyman is a superb choice as guest for your show on Friday, December 29 and we haven’t seen enough of her since her comeback a few short years ago, which actually had a first glimpse in the Sammy Cahn centennial concert I hosted at the Iridium as a benefit for Cabaret Scenes Magazine, where you sang “Star!” as Liza and she did “The Second Time Around.” Is this the second time around for you and that Star to share a stage? Is that where you actually met?
A: We met at Don’t Tell Mama one afternoon when she was talking about coming back to sing. The Sammy Cahn show WAS the first time we were in the same show. This will be the first time we share the stage singing together. We are hoping to do more together in the future with me appearing as myself. It’s difficult to pick keys for us to sing in when I have to sound like Liza and she has to sound like her. As myself, I could sing a bit lower and we’d have an easier time of it.
Q: How is the prep and performance as Liza different in this variety format, compared to your many solo nights and the long run of combo shows with Tommy Femia as Judy Garland?
A: The solo shows and the shows with Tommy actually had no guest stars. So, this is ALL new to me. I am enjoying working with our choreographer Kyle Rostan and the wonderful, hardworking boys. They are a joy and I get to do new things with them. Since this is a variety show, I even get to dance to a track for “Arthur in the Afternoon.” It doesn’t seem out of place since it is a big show with lots of different things happening. Chuck Sweeney sang to a track of “Fever” and brought down the house. It takes a lot of rehearsal and preparation, but I enjoy working hard to prepare the show.
Postcard photo/design credit: Andy Drachtenberg
Q: New Year’s Eve is the biggest night out for some, a night to splurge, and make memories. What will your show have that will make memories for its attendees?
A: The show will be longer, which will be a blessing. Opening night ran 90 minutes and the crowd ate it up, but we’ve had to cut back to 70 minutes for the club’s benefit. So, on New Year’s Eve, Nancy Witter and Lykken won’t have to hold back and I will be able to add more comedy songs to my set to keep the laughs rolling.
Photo credit: Eric Stephen Jacobs
Q: Nancy Witter is another old-school, reliably delightful pro who’s guesting with you. What’s your history with her and what does she bring to the table?
A: Nancy, David Maiocco and I all performed together in Ron Poole’s Poole Party as far back as 2000. Ron was the one who asked me to do “LIZA” in his comedy show and it was Sidney Myer who encouraged me to flesh it out into a full evening which eventually became A Slice o’ Minnelli. Nancy is a killer comedian. She’s funny just saying “hello.” The audience opening night adored her and so I thought it would be great to spend the night with her on New Year’s Eve.
Q: Is there pressure to make a New Year’s Eve show unique or over the top, with so many other events for audiences to choose from?
A: I work hard to make every show unique and by nature we are over the top. I think a big show with boys, comedy, belting, dancing and tons of sequins will outdo a lot of what is being offered along the Rialto. Audiences have been ecstatic so far and I think New Year’s Eve will be no different.
Q: Can you compare the responses of repeat audience attendees to those who experiences your take on Liza for their first time? What surprises the newcomers and what do the returnees seem to anticipate with the most glee?
A: The biggest compliment I hear is that people think they know what they are coming to see and are pleasantly surprised that it is different than they thought. They love the song parodies, the energy, the slightly off-kilter patter, the sly jokes and the Bazazz! People, and there are many of them, come back and back and back because it all adds up to a uniquely joyful experience and they want their friends to experience it with them.
Q: Tell us about the concept and inspiration for the Kit Kat Boys and do you save money on wardrobe by not having shirts to design, buy, or launder? And how were they chose and do they get along and which one is the most likely to be found drooling over Liza Minnelli items?
A: Where do I start? The concept for having the boys really came from Manuel Araujo, the manager of Don’t Tell Mama. He and Sidney Myer came to me in September and asked me to put together a big, weekend variety show to fill the spot that Judy and Liza had filled for so many years. He kept saying, “And we will have BOYS with Liza and dancing and BOYS.” Once I came up with the name of the show, which is taken from a Kay Thompson song, I decided I wanted the opening number to be like one of the Kay numbers that Liza did at The Palace a few years ago. We decided to “modernize” them a bit by having them not wear shirts under the jackets. Some were chosen by audition, some by recommendation. We’ve already had two complete sets of boys as talented people tend to get other jobs. I hope the new set (Vince Peralta on December 29th, then David Ballard on NYE, Ryan Lind and Matheus Ting) stay with me for a while. We all get along like gangbusters and I think they ALL drool over Liza items.
Q: To whom can you liken Lykken and is there any “Liza” in Lykken’s likably lynx-like lounge-a-rama? Will he be a semi-regular in 2018?
A: So many people have asked to be guest stars that I don’t think anyone will be a semi-regular. Lykken is one of my favorite performers as he is completely modern, yet loves all the show business traditions and songs of the last 100 years. He always has a refreshing take on something old and a blazing fierceness on everything new. He is very much like Liza in that his commitment to performing in the moment is total.
Q: Other than Lykken and the Kit Kat Boys,what and whom can we expect to see and be dazzled with in your series in the New Year?
A: If I decide to continue into the new year, I will be developing more group numbers with the boys. Maybe a modern song for Liza to do that is heavy on the dance moves. And I’d love someone to play the saw. And an evening devoted to the songs of Follies. And a duet with Lauren Stanford as Helen Morgan. And maybe Aaron Weinstein on violin. And a dog act…
Q: What are your New Year’s Resolutions, personally and professionally?
A: Personally: To save some money. Professionally: To start on my new solo show based on my experiences at The Carlyle Hotel and its cast of characters, which includes Bobby Short, Barbara Carroll, Barbara Cook, Eartha Kitt, Elaine Stritch, Tony Bennett and Lena Horne, utilizing their original arrangements. I will wear pants.
Q: What have you learned from Liza’s career and personal history that inspires you? And, by extension, do you think of Elsie to this very day and remember how she’d turn to you and say something?
A: I’ve learned that you can get anything done if you go about it the right way. Keep going and don’t take “no” for an answer. I do think of Elsie and try to remember that if life is NOT a Cabaret, you are doing it wrong.
THE RICK SKYE & COMPANY SHOWS:
Friday, December 29, at 7:00 PM: Bazazz! Variety Show. Rick Skye as Liza with guests Rick Crom and Karen Wyman. With the Kit Kat Boyz. For reservations, see www.donttellmamanyc.com/shows/main/bazazz-a-sequined-variety-starring-rick-skye-as-liza-minnelli-12-29
Sunday, December 31 at 9:30 PM, with special guests comedian Nancy Witter and alt-cabaret performer, Lykken. Tickets are $160/pp and include a 3-course prix-fix dinner and champagne flute toast. To make reservations for this special New Year’s Eve performance, guests must email Manuel@donttellmamanyc.com
Don’t Tell Mama is at 343 West 46 Street in Manhattan, on the fabled Restaurant Row.