Seth Sikes Heads to Boston with Some Judy on His Mind

by Robert Nesti

EDGE National Arts & Entertainment Editor

Friday February 25, 2022
Originally published on January 24, 2022

When Seth Sikes moved to New York City twenty years ago, he wanted to be an actor. But it proved difficult for the NYC newbie, who moved there just two weeks after the September 11 attacks crippled the city. He began auditioning but quickly found himself burnt out by the process and found work behind-the-scenes at various shows while searching for his right show business career.

Along the way, Sikes began to find solace going to piano bars, where his style of singing and the songs he loved to hear could be heard. A friend agreed to produce an evening of Sikes singing the songs of his idol, Judy Garland; within days the word-of-mouth led one performance to be expanded to six. Thanks to Garland, Sikes had found his voice and his show business career.

Now Sikes is an in-demand cabaret star, equally at home in swank NYC venues as Feinstein's/54 Below or in resorts like Puerto Vallarta and Provincetown, both gay Mecca where he does extended runs. It was in Puerto Vallarta that EDGE caught up with Sikes, who performs in the Mexican resort the months of January and March. This week Sikes returns to the cold Northeast to make his Boston debut at the Napoleon Room at Boston's Club Cafe at 8 p.m. on Saturday, February 26. For more information, follow this link. (This is the rescheduled date for Sikes' concert, postponed from January due to a snowstorm.) In the show, he pays tribute not only to Garland, but to such other great female stars as Liza Minnelli, Barbra Streisand and Bernadette Peters.

Sikes has also made a number of cheeky videos he has posted on YouTube where he sings songs by Judy and Liza on the boardwalks of Fire Island and on Commercial Street in Provincetown.

EDGE spoke to Sikes about how he discovered Garland from one of her films (and not "The Wizard of Oz"), his love of the Great American songbook and receiving a special honor from Liza Minnelli.

EDGE: You're heading to Boston to perform there for at the first time?

Seth Sikes: Yes. I've been performing in Provincetown for, you know, five or six years. I don't know if a lot of those people who saw me down there live in Boston. I hope that people, if they know me or not, will come out.

EDGE: You will be paying homage to Judy Garland (amongst others) in the show. Can you explain how she came into your life?

Seth Sikes: When I was a little boy, Paris, Texas, I saw a movie called "Summer Stock" that had Judy Garland driving a tractor and singing a song called "(Howdy Neighbor) Happy Harvest," and I was hooked. Then later in the film she did this fabulous song called "Get Happy" with dancing boys. And I just thought it was the most spectacular thing I've ever seen.

I had seen "The Wizard of Oz" and, of course, love that too. But "Summer Stock" for some reason did it for me. Then I discovered her television show on DVD and the recording of her Carnegie Hall concert. I also discovered Liza Minnelli and didn't know that she was Judy's daughter. When I learned that, I totally lost my mind. So it was through Judy that I got interested in musicals and singing.

Watch Seth Stiles sing Judy Garland's "Howdy Neighbor" on Fire Island.

EDGE: What was it like growing up in Paris, Texas.

Seth Sikes: It was fine. I was not bullied or anything like that. Luckily, I had a great loving family, but I clearly was desperate to get out because I moved to New York two weeks after I graduated from high school. And I moved there right after 9/11, twenty years ago, so it was a little scary. I wanted to be an actor but realized pretty early on that I wasn't good at it. Then I started going to piano bars and realized I could sing these old songs that I loved, like "Stormy Weather" and "The Man That Got Away." And people liked it. So I saw it as a great opportunity for me to show what I can do vocally with this old material. I could tell my story about growing up in Texas as a little boy seeking to develop. Realizing that I wasn't going to be an actor and never be a leading man was a process — an emotional process. And I realized knowing what not to do is as important as knowing what to do.

EDGE: You seem to relate to music from a previous generation — the Great American Songbook as it is called. Do you ever get pushback for that?

Seth Sikes: Yes. When I was on the playground I was singing Gershwin songs as opposed to something by Boys To Men, or whatever the popular thing was. I wasn't really teased for it, though I think people thought I was weird. But my obsession with these old songs started with, you know, hearing Judy sing. Then I moved to New York, and I discovered "Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall," which I had not heard before because we didn't have such things in Paris, Texas.

I thought it was incredible. After that YouTube came around, and I was able to see Judy at all the different stages of her career. And it's just gone on from there that, you know, I always say she changed my life several times. Judy got me into musicals, and helped me get back up on stage about seven years ago when I did my first cabaret that was made up of Judy Garland songs. And that's changed my life, too, because here we are. Seven years later and I'm singing. I've been singing Judy Garland all over the world and people seem enjoy it.

EDGE: What would you say to her if she were in the room today?

Seth Sikes: I'd say thank you, and then ask her to do a duet or something. But saying thank you is the main thing I would say.

EDGE: Are you surprised that there are some who don't know who she is?

Seth Sikes: Yes, I find it incredible. But once they are introduced to her, they realize she's worth paying attention to. I don't come across it very often, but I had a friend recently who told me that he knew someone who didn't know who Liza or Liz Taylor was, and I thought that incredible as well.

EDGE: Do you have a favorite performance by Judy?

Seth Sikes: I think I would go with "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." She sang it the week after John F. Kennedy was assassinated. They were good friends, and she just puts so much into that. It's just absolutely heartbreaking. Moving and stirring, I think that's my favorite one.

EDGE: Are there some Garland songs you just won't touch?

Seth Sikes: She did "Come Rain or Come Shine" in this incredibly crazy and difficult arrangement. I tried to do it once, but cut it because I didn't think it sounded right. Her version of is just so insanely wild and I realized I shouldn't even try. And I don't do "Over the Rainbow" because I'd like to say it's been done.

EDGE: Congratulations your video of "Ring Them Bells" with you on the beach in Fire Island was chosen to close the recent Liza Minnelli birthday celebration. Have you met Liza?

Seth Sikes: I have seen her perform many times but have only met her in person a few times, and I am always starstruck. I remember one time she was in the little alley next to the Shubert Theater smoking. But I could not think of anything to say when I spoke to her. And I just was so starstruck. It was amazing.

EDGE: When you sing songs so identified with these artists, do you attempt to bring any of their vocal styling to your interpretation?

Seth Sikes: I am 100-percent not an impersonator, and I really do sing in my own style. Now. My style does have to be slightly old fashioned. And you know, I am a belter like Judy, so there are elements of Judy style that have been to my performance. But I don't, I don't for example, you know, hold the microphone cord like Judy does or try to warble in any way like her. So the answer is largely no, but there is a little bit of nod to that occasionally.

EDGE: The Broadway musical, which is a source for much of your material, has changed quite a bit and has acquired a more contemporary style in this century, both in composition and performance. Could you fit in the contemporary Broadway scene?

Seth Sikes: I am a belter and sound like I'm from a different period. So yeah, the show would need to be an old fashioned one. But I can't see myself really ever being in another musical again.

For information about Seth Sikes at Boston's Club Cafe on February 26,
follow this link.

For more information about Seth Sikes, visit his Facebook page.

Robert Nesti can be reached at [email protected].