BWW Review: Seth Sikes Bursts with Pride at JUDY, LIZA, BARBRA, ETC.
"These songs are fucking great, even if you don't like me."
Seth Sikes was right, and humility aside, during SETH SIKES SINGS JUDY, LIZA, BARBRA, ETC. at Feinstein's/54 Below, he was pretty great, too.
Kicking off his breakneck June 24 performance with "We're In the Money" (Harry Warren/Al Dubin) and "Pennies From Heaven" (Arthur Johnston/Johnny Burke), Sikes was all smiles, at one point literally leaping off the ground with excitement.
And when he began singing the lyrics Pig Latin and I didn't even want to roll my eyes, I knew I was completely sold.
Considering the fact that it was The Night Before Pride, it could've been tough to win over the crowd. But Sikes called it out right off the bat, joking, "I know a lot of you would rather be out dancing... like me."
But if you heard his take on BRIGADOON's "Almost Like Being in Love" (Lerner & Loewe) and still wanted to be out busting a move, that's on you, Electric Boogaloo. The trills as he sang, "And from the way that I feel" gave me goosebumps. In fact, in both his singing and the act in general, his ability to show vulnerability and grace simultaneously was incredibly powerful.
Early on, Sikes admitted he didn't really want to come up with an entirely new concept for a Pride show, teasing that he was going to sing songs about ex-boyfriends and powerful women.
But hearing him bursting at the seams talking about Judy Garland---to whom the last third of the show was dedicated---it became clear that he was laser-focused on the people and the art that had changed his life. And what's more paramount to the queer experience than that?
Even more compelling were the series of vignettes about his dating life, told through a series of musical letters to his mother. Offering up details that may sometimes be hard to admit, he told his mom about the intersections of life and love. ("He's solvent and doesn't mind that I'm not solvent as well.")
He didn't shy away from messy feelings---from the break-up with the guy who's now in a movie and "whose face is everywhere," to his jaded reaction to hearing a show he was working on might be bound for Broadway. ("I've heard that one before.") These moments were full of personal details that felt even more lived-in than the songs.
Sikes was backed by a serious band, including musical director Paul Staroba on piano, along with Dan Weiner on drums, Hollis "Bud" Burridge on trumpet, Steve Gilewski on bass, Nate Maryland on trombone, and Steve Lyon playing reeds.
If his sunny disposition while covering "Maybe This Time" (Kander & Ebb) from CABARET felt perhaps a tad too optimistic, his utterly euphoric take on "Wonderful Guy" (Rodgers & Hammerstein) from SOUTH PACIFIC was untouchable.
Standing there, belting "I'm in love" so many times in a row I lost count, Sikes was nothing short of mesmerizing. The spell was only broken when the crowd busted into laughter as he cracked, "You may have noticed I was in the phase where I was in love."
Like an emotional key change, Sikes stepped into a new gear for that final act. Beginning with "Get Happy" (Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler), he captured Garland's manic energy and even a few vocal quirks without ever dipping into impersonation.
My only quibble was with the selection of "Rock-A-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody" (Jean Schwartz/Sam M. Lewis/Joe Young), most famously sung by Al Jolson in SINBAD but covered by Garland. Sikes called out the fact that he was a White boy performing a song sung by a White woman covering a Jewish man impersonating a Black man---in blackface, no less---and if your introduction needs that kind of disclaimer, maybe it's not the best choice on a night dedicated to inclusion.
Fortunately, that was not the last number in his Judy tribute. His controlled performance of "If Love Were All" (Noel Coward) from BITTER SWEET was a rare break from the bombast before letting the music play with the title track from CABARET (Kander & Ebb). (Though it's not a Judy Garland number, as Sikes noted, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.)
To the very end, Sikes didn't phone in a single note. In fact, crooning "After You've Gone" (Turner Layton/Henry Creamer), the word "gone" was stretched to the limit, if the limit is about 13 glorious syllables.
Truly, Sikes earned every bit of that standing ovation he received, and sunny disposition or not, I have a feeling that, if not this time, sometime soon he'll win.
Troy Frisby is an entertainment writer and digital news producer based in New York. Follow him on Twitter @TroyFrisby.