Seth Sikes

April 21, 2015 | By | Add a Comment

Seth SikesMore than enough words have been spent remarking on gay men’s fascination with Judy Garland. But though Garland herself left the world nearly a half century ago, enthusiasm for her among this particular demographic seems to be stubbornly alive—that is, if the predominantly male turnout at 54 Below for an encore presentation of “Seth Sikes Is Still Singing Judy Garland” (co-conceived by Lisa Lambert and directed by Eric Gilliland) is any indication. Another credible explanation would be that Sikes is gaining his own following.

This high-flying tenor is not a Garland impersonator, although he is billed in press materials as singing some of the star’s signature numbers in her keys. Sikes, music director Gary Adler, and Adler’s talented band mates performed arrangements (orchestrated by Matt Aument) that were mostly suggestive of—if not identical to—Garland’s. For instance, Sikes’s “Just in Time” (Jule Styne, Comden & Green) kept modulating into higher keys every few measures, emulating Judy’s familiar climbing-the-musical-stairway rendition.

Sikes’s voice is hardy, and he can belt out key musical phrases with impressive vivacity. His high-frequency vibrato came across as the purr of an athletic kitten. Nuance, however, isn’t his strongest suit. If he were to focus more on the vocal and emotional shadings within each song, his future performances could be even better than this one was. Nevertheless, his personal charm, physical expressiveness, and enthusiasm for the material went a long way toward ensuring that everyone in attendance had a good time.

Sikes is a fresh-faced young fellow who, as a child, fell in love with the fresh-faced young Judy Garland during video viewings of her films Summer Stock and The Wizard of Oz. He seems not much interested in the darker side of the Garland legend. He noted that when he listened to the recording of her celebrated 1961 Carnegie Hall performance, he didn’t at first especially care for her more-worldly sound.

An opening medley provided a lively welcome, starting with DeSylva, Brown and Henderson’s “Lucky Day,” followed by the Gershwins’ “I Got Rhythm” and a lilting rendition of “Everybody Sing” (Nacio Herb Brown, Arthur Freed, from Broadway Melody of 1938) that eventually raced toward a big finish. This three-pronged opening salvo was followed by a lengthy take-off on the “Born in a Trunk” sequence from Garland’s 1954 A Star Is Born film. Here Sikes described not only how he became a Garland admirer but also how he began taking baby steps toward establishing his own singing career. “I was born in a truck outside Paris, Texas,” he explained in song. Matching photos were projected showing Garland and Sikes perched on their respective tractors—she on the MGM lot, he back home on the farm. The down-home tone of the sequence would not likely have worked had it come from someone less guileless and wholesome-seeming than Sikes. He pulled it off deftly. And at one point in this sequence he even threw in an impressive trumpet solo.

Most of the rest of the evening was a sampling of Garland’s greatest hits (though Sikes—wisely, I think—chose not to include “Over the Rainbow”). Throughout the evening, he performed Garland’s songs from the perspective of an openly gay (but camp-free) man: a “one-man fella looking for the man that got away.” While I applaud that approach, I wish that in “Rock-A-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody” he had sung the original lyric “Sing ‘Old Black Joe'” instead of the bowdlerized “Sing soft and low” (regardless of whether Garland may, on some occasion, have performed the song with this etiolated variant). Does whatever political incorrectness resides in the lyrics of Stephen Foster’s “Old Black Joe” dictate that even the song’s title must now remain unheard?

Nellie McKay (on hand to perform her own show at the club later that evening) was Sikes’s special guest and teamed with him on two numbers. Their voices blended pleasantly and they demonstrated an easy rapport with each other.

There were relatively few ballads in the program, although Sikes included a lovely, sentimental version of the Gershwins’ “A Foggy Day” at the close of the evening. Another exception was “It’s All for You,” a lesser-known song written for Garland near the end of her career by John Meyer—who was in attendance to hear Sikes. I suggest that in future programs the singer, for variety’s sake, sprinkle in more low-key rarities like “It’s All for You” and scratch one or two of the big, brassy showstoppers.

“Seth Sikes Is Still Singing Judy Garland”
54 Below  –  April 16

Category: Reviews

Mark Dundas Wood

About the Author ()

Mark Dundas Wood is an arts/entertainment journalist and dramaturg. He began writing reviews for BistroAwards.com in 2011. More recently he has contributed "Cabaret Setlist" articles about cabaret repertoire. Other reviews and articles have appeared in theaterscene.net and clydefitchreport.com, as well as in American Theatre and Back Stage. As a dramaturg, he has worked with New Professional Theatre and the New York Musical Theatre Festival.

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