By Esti Bernstein
Photo Credit: Kevin Thomas Garcia
On Thursday, April 16, Seth Sikes performed his cabaret show “Seth Sikes Is Still Singing Judy Garland” and boy, am I glad that he did. The show at 54 Below, one of New York’s most popular cabaret venues, was a great setting to enjoy Garland’s classic and arguably timeless repertoire. In a packed room under colorful lights Sikes presented a fun, emotional night of songs.
He sings with the energy and enthusiasm of the ultimate Judy fan, his excitement spilling through every note. His sound is somewhat reminiscent of Michael Bublé and contemporary musicians who sing classics and standards. The performance is not an impersonation, but feels as though Sikes taps into the same emotional well as Garland and her songwriters, rendering a sincere understanding of the music as told by a young narrator. He jokes that the lyrics, in fact, have personal meaning—something he discovered when his experiences with heartbreak pulled him back to songs like “The Man That Got Away.”
Joined onstage by his music director Gary Adler and a 6-piece band, Sikes kicked off the evening with an energetic medley of “Get Lucky,”“I Got Rhythm,” and “Everybody Sing.” The whole set list was chock-full of audience favorites including “The Trolley Song,”“How Long Has This Been Going On,”“Rock-A-Bye Your Baby.” Sikes’ interpretations of the songs is incredibly genuine and remain true to the emotional content. He even picked up the trumpet and treated the audience to a solo in “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart.” Singer Nellie McKay, who is performing her own show at 54 Below, aslo joined Sikes on stage for a duet. They sang a wonderful combination of “You Wonderful You” and “For Me and My Gal.” The mutual admiration between the two performers was palpable. Even though Sikes only invited the audience to sing along once, it’s safe to say there were more than a few people reciting the lyrics from their seats.
Overall, the show is more about Sikes than about Judy. He weaves together the songs with his own narrative, sharing how the songs played a role in his life from a child in Paris, TX to a student in New York City. He tells the “almost true story” of regularly watching Garland’s movie Summer Stock growing up and singing “Get Happy” in church when his grandmother, affectionately referred to as his “Ninny,” urges him to perform. The connection between a boy born on a farm and Garland’s movie about performing in a barn? Uncanny. Childhood photos enhance the evening with an appropriate dose of wholesome cuteness.
Sikes presents a loving tribute to an international icon while making the show unique and personal. Unlike some cabaret or concert shows, “Seth Sikes is Still SingingJudy Garland” feels remarkably direct and honest. There’s nothing kitschy, cliché, or contrived. Clearly, Sikes is on stage singing (again) because he loves the music. In an autobiographical interlude, he tells the audience that his education in acting school actually led him to a career in theatrical direction, including assistant direction on Broadway. Because he doesn’t perform regularly, this is a treat for him that we get to enjoy, too. We feel like we’re joining him at one of the piano bars he frequented where he discovered his passion for singing Garland songs. He’s comfortable enough on stage to reveal that he’s not a Garland expert and that an evening of singing is no easy feat. In doing so, he welcomes the audience to share in his love of the music and appreciate the enduring songs. Whether you’re a lifelong Garland fan or looking for a fun night of cabaret, you should join Seth. I hope he keeps singing Judy for a long time.