Seth Sikes: Sings Bernadette Peters

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Seth Sikes

Sings Bernadette Peters

Feinstein’s/54 Below, NYC, February 25, 2017

Reviewed by Rob Lester for Cabaret Scenes

Seth Sikes

With a megawatt twinkle in his eye, Olympian bounce in his step, devilish tongue in cheek, sassy-sweet Seth Sikes sails securely onto the stage, greeted like a conquering hero. The cheers keep coming. He sings his heart out in a piping voice that brings the fervor and energy in the room to a bubbling-over point. Agenda du jour: a valentine to Bernadette Peters and her Broadway/concert repertoire. But, he promises/warns/teases us, some will come through the lens of the angst of autobiographical pour-your-poor-(broken)-heart-out cabaret confessional. Looking out over the packed, overwhelmingly male crowd, he asks, “How many of my exes are here?
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” Cleverly, he uses the device of the series of several “Letter[s] Home” to Mother from Song and Dance (aka Tell Me on a Sunday) to chronicle his revolving door of male lovers (“names changed to protect the innocent—or not-so-innocent). The tweaked and additional lyrics are his own invention and are hilarious and smart. Sometimes, a sigh of loneliness and frustration adds needed vulnerability to a persona of confidence that could otherwise suggest understandable entitlement owing to his looking like the ultimate princely chorus boy—million-dollar smile, every hair in place. Love comes—and goes. “Time Heals Everything?” Not quite.

But back to Bernadette, the subject at hand he’s ever-ready to hand the focus back to. He gushes and grins his way through stories of how he adored the diva growing up. He tells how, at age 19, he got a job in the theater where she was starring in Gypsy, selling souvenir programs. Soon, she noticed the wide-eyed fan and became friendly. “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” indeed! He sings this with gusto and, guessing that the audience is up to the task, makes the same score’s “Small World” a sing-along. The guy can do no  wrong. He’s buoyed by Musical Director Mark Hartman’s piano and firm command of a band of five more zippy, expert players (trumpeter Alex Bender; cellist Garo Yellin; bassist Corey Schutzer; drummer Greg Joseph; and Kristy Norter on reeds). The orchestrators Matt Aument and Neil Douglas Reilly honor beloved  Broadway blueprints, energy intact, but add fresh touches and resist overwhelming us with volume in this nightclub setting.    

The wising-up summing-up of “No More,” with its gently punny conclusion “I know more now,” is a deeply satisfying and cathartic triumph.  The inclusion of this underappreciated number from The Goodbye Girl (Marvin Hamlisch/David Zippel) is a very smart choice as it balances the cute stuff and the high drama elsewhere. The piece de resistance which he doesn’t resist jumping into is a huge all-Sondheim medley, often as the original characters instead of adapted to himself, and really getting into Into the Woods‘ selections. And “Move On” from Sunday in the Park with George is the not-so-unpredictable follow-up, as when he addresses his mother and “writes” to her in the aforementioned letters. He’d several times referenced her  supportive but firm mantra of advice being that one must always try to “move on.” 

With success, Sikes seeks sexy sauciness with revelations: almost telling about a boyfriend kissing him from his neck to his… (He stops when realizing he shouldn’t be too specific when writing to his mother). The audience giggles. (We later learn that Mom flew in from Texas and is in the audience.) His happy Gypsy memories, he tells us, include not only watching Bernadette night after night, but making out with an actor playing one of Dainty June’s Farmboys dancing with Caroline the cow.  Are those envious sighs between the laughs?  The master baits the fans and mines the humor in “Making Love Alone” without getting smutty with lascivious, um, self-satisfaction.   

While the belting blasts are generally invigorating, if occasionally bordering on brave yet incautious moments that might benefit from key changes or more conservative navigation, it’s his gentle singing that is often most effective.  He has a pretty sound when singing in this manner and, despite an outward “been-around” brash attitude, he can still suggest tenderness and even, yes, innocence.
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  Some lovely early recordings, recently released, of theater songs by Chip Deffaa, one of his great boosters, reveal this side. (See our print magazine’s new issue for my article on this writer/director/producer.)   

Not that we needed proof, but a photo on the screen shows smiling Seth with idol Bernadette backstage at a Sondheim tribute. In a dream job, he assisted Lonny Price and was assigned as Miss Peters’ attendant. Indeed it is as assistant director to bigger and bigger projects (currently The Band’s Visit) —and sometimes as director—that have taken up his time, keeping him away from performing more. But his wildly applauding sold-out crowds for his one-nighters certainly indicate that he has a fervent following that will be lined up to welcome him back, if impatient and frustrated that he performs too rarely. His return to Feinstein’s/54 Below won’t be until June 24 (Gay Pride Weekend). Meanwhile, two other cities can catch his Judy Garland show: New Hope, PA’s RRazz Room on May 20 and Londoners at Crazy Coqs on June 10. Why should New Yorkers have all the fun? And a night in Seth Sikes’ company is indeed, as they say in Gypsy,  “a barrel of fun.” But it comes from a smart heart that knows how to share that song in his heart, occasionally wear his heart on his sleeve, and entertain in a big way, way off the electrocardiogram chart. 

Rob Lester

2015 is native New Yorker Rob Lester's eighth year as contributing writer, beginning by reviewing a salute to Frank Sinatra, whose recordings have played on his personal soundtrack since the womb. (His Cabaret Scenes Foundation member mom started him with her favorite; like his dad, he became an uber-avid record collector/ fan of the Great American Songbook's great singers and writers.) Soon, he was attending shows, seeking out up-and-comers and already-came-ups, still reading and listening voraciously. He also writes for and, has been cabaret-centric as awards judge, panel member/co-host, and produces benefit/tribute shows, including one for us.