by Ruby Comer
COVID-19 got your panties in a bunch? Read on, uptight reader.
Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Lena Horne, Bernadette Peters, and Liza Minnelli. What do all these icons have in common? Seth Sikes!
Thirty-seven year old Seth, who resembles more of a high schooler than an adult man (how does he preserve that youth?!), found his niche when he began singing these diva’s tunes.
At eighteen Seth’s journey began taking him from his hometown of Paris, Texas, to Circle in the Square Conservatory in New York City. Two years later he landed an acting part in an off-Broadway show, which unfortunately closed in two weeks. He then focused on directing, working himself up from assistant director of regional theater to Broadway.
A decade passed and Seth missed performing. Though he was always melodious, when Seth sang it would be strictly pop or musical theater, which he learned was not the best for him. Then Grandma Ninny pressed him to sing standards such as “Stormy Weather,” “The Man That Got Away,” and “I’m in Love Again.” Eureka. The tunes were a cozy fit and exhilarating. Seth pieced together a cabaret act, appearing at Feinstein’s 54 Below (in the basement of the former ultimate discothèque Studio 54), and made the rounds on the nightclub circuit, most of them sellouts. Some of his concerts are tribute shows to these classic dames. Checkout YouTube for a front-row seat!
Born out of COVID ennui, Seth has taken his talent to producing and starring in his own
musical videos. Lucky us. Last summer he was living on Fire Island and was going bonkers, so he created.
The lavish vids (on YouTube) are meticulously produced, spicy, and pure delight. Seth is having fun and we get to whistle with him! Watching them is similar to licking a creamsicle. You want to savor it. (It should be mentioned that Seth collaborates on his vids with Tony-award winning lyricist Lisa Lambert, and for Seth, Judy Garland remains his foremost inspiration.)
Two faves of mine are “Howdy Neighbor,” a parody of Judy Garland’s famous ditty in Summer Stock, and “Mask of Many Colors” (yes, about the pandemic) a send-up from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. One media comment lauded, “Your voice is a clarion from heaven, Seth.”
In concert you can expect a very dapper handsome clean-cut guy, at times sporting a tux. In Seth’s lavish pithy videos, he’s still stylish but in many of them, the shirt, and sometimes the pants, come off. Hummm, yes, but it’s done with complete taste and there’s no nudity. Darnit.
Speaking of naked, being a proud New Yorker, Seth is an avid advocate for Broadway Cares and has attended many of their annual fundraiser, Broadway Bares—where it’s not only “hats-off” night, if you get my drift.
In March, Seth appeared in an all star-studded streaming bash celebrating the legendary Liza Minnelli on her seventy-fifth birthday. He performed one of the entertainer’s all time dazzling hits, “Ring Them Bells,” but with a sweet sensational twist! Watch here:
Also in March, to mark the one year anniversary of Broadway’s closure due to COVID, Seth released a new music video, “Home,” a tune from the musical Minsky’s. All proceeds go to Broadway Cares, which still, after more than thirty years, continues to help those afflicted with life-threatening diseases, including HIV/AIDS and COVID-19. Watch the video here:
(Donate to Broadway Cares: https://donate.broadwaycares.org/sethsikeshome.)
Some of Seth’s friends are living with HIV, and some of his older friends lived in the eighties and nineties during the terror of AIDS. Seth feels a passionate connection to them and when they tell him their stories of friends dying, it becomes an all-too crushing reality. It tragically hits home for him, grieving over the loss of countless talented people.
A tad more insight into the boy, oops, man…Coming out at eighteen, when he moved to the Big Apple, his then celebrity crush was Ryan Phillippe, and the first Broadway show he attended was Les Miserables. Mister Sikes was smitten with the stage during the second grade when he played the Scarecrow in a stage production of The Wizard of Oz. He self-describes himself as, well,….Lush.
On a Sunday eve at 5 p.m. on the West Coast, and 8 p.m. on the East Coast, Seth and I do a Zoomer from his Hell’s Kitchen pad. The entertainer is chipper, animated, and gracious. Seth resembles a young comic book hero, think Toby Maguire, Tom Holland, or even Christopher Reeves. I review Seth’s life and, like a superhero, he’s waiting to don that suit and fly in the big league.
Ruby Comer: Happy to see you! [As Seth nods and greets, I fleetingly peek behind him. There’s an enormous bookcase overflowing with mostly novels, but I espy a whole shelf dedicated to Judy Garland biographies.] So…besides boredom, Seth, what in nilly-willy sparked those Fire Island videos?!
Seth Sikes: [He sports a broad Pepsodent smile.] I would bounce around the island humming Judy songs, thinking, “Oh wouldn’t it be funny to write one about, say, the ferry?” I love writing parody lyrics, so I sat down and wrote a parody of “The Atchison Topeka and the Santa Fe,” except it’s all about the Fire Island Ferry instead of a train. Then I thought: I’ve got an iPhone and lots of time, so let’s try to make this into a music video. After the popularity of the first few, the ideas just kept pouring out of me, and I got better at them—I think!
You did, brother. Pow! Okay comrade, tell this aging beauty how you keep that complexion of yours so freshly-dewed?
I think 2020 has aged me several years, Ruby [Seth lets out a trail of giggles]! I really don’t do anything because I don’t know where to begin! But when I saw my mom over the holiday, she asked if I wanted some Botox for Christmas!
That’s cute. I like your mom already! I mean, who doesn’t need a nip and tuck now and then? [All of a sudden I rattle off finger by finger…] Okay Mister, name your favorite Streisand, Garland, and Minnelli films.
[He ticks off almost instantaneously] Garland: Summer Stock. Minnelli: Cabaret. Streisand: What’s Up, Doc?
Three glorious and dazzling films! I love What’s Up, Doc?—it’s highly underrated in the Streisand roster, I believe. Name the AIDS-themed film that touched you the most.
Definitely…Longtime Companion, Ruby. I haven’t seen it in a long time, but it always makes me weep. [He takes a beat.] I also love The Hours.
Outstanding. Tell me how you first heard about HIV.
My first memory, Ruby, was in third grade when teachers warned us to never touch the blood of another student.
Hmmm, okay. That’s quite a visual. Were you taught about HIV prevention in your Texas high school?
We were taught about a variety of STDs, but not in much detail. I think it was only one or two classes while I was in middle school. The specter of HIV and AIDS seemed like a distant, far-off threat. In Texas I think they were more concerned with pregnancy prevention in our sex ed courses.
That sounds, unfortunately, pretty normal. How old were you when you first tested for HIV?
Nineteen. [He glances over his shoulder as if he might have heard a din.]
How did the test come about and where did you have it performed?
I dated a boy who showed me the ropes. [He tugs at a strand of his silky, bubbly chocolate-with-cream hair.] He connected me with Dr. Stephen Dillon, a gay doctor in Chelsea. “A very cruise-y waiting room,” my friend said. This was before rapid testing, so you had to wait for a phone call. Even if you didn’t think there was any chance you’d caught it, waiting for the call was always anxiety inducing.
Oh gee, yes!
Then the doctor called me. “Seth Sikes? It’s Dr. Dillon, and I have your test results.” My heart rate went insane.
Oh god, yes. Dreadful. [Seth props his elbow on the desk and cups his fist to support his chin.] …and what’s the best thing about living in Hell’s Kitchen?
It’s a great gay neighborhood, but frankly I don’t go to gay bars much, certainly not now. I love being near Broadway, the Theater District, and near all the creative types who live here. [He winks and then dons a sly grin.]…Cruising on Ninth Avenue ain’t a bad feature either.
Oh, really? Okay. Didn’t know. Speaking of cruising…share about another sexy venture, attending Broadway Bares.
I used to attend every year! It was a highlight, something to look forward to. It was always on a Sunday, and I remember being hung-over at work on Mondays. The shows were sexy and fun, and it was incredible to see all the boys in the crowd, so many from the theatre industry.
A stirring night most undeniably.
There usually are no seats, as it sells out. [He clears his throat, wedging himself closer to the computer.] I’m short, so I couldn’t always see the stage well. Instead, I would focus on the “low hanging fruit” all around me. [Seth laughs merrily.] Those were some great nights. It brought a tear to my eye to see so many people volunteering and spending money to help cure a disease. I can’t wait to go again when live entertainment returns.
From your mouth to God’s—or whomever’s—ears! How have you kept sane during COVID, especially since all your gigs got cancelled?
I’m not sure that I have kept sane! I’m a fiction addict, so I’ve always craved alone time to read. However, the terror of March and April kept me in such an anxious state that I could hardly focus on a book—or focus on anything, really. With the help of wine [he gulps comically] I was able to focus more on movies, so I started to watch all classic movies that I hadn’t seen on Roger Ebert’s and AFI’s best lists. Then in May I relocated to Fire Island Pines for the entire summer, where life was much better than it had been in my apartment.
Then the creativity began to flow. [He nods vigorously then bends over to pick a pencil that dropped to the floor. In his brief absence, I see two black and white stills of Judy Garland hanging on the wall.] Fascinating poses of Judy [I point to them as Seth looks around at the photographs].
Oh! I recently obtained them from an auction of Liza Minnelli memorabilia.
Kudos to you. Have you had the opportunity to meet any of these divas whose songs you sing?
I met Liza three or four times. The first time I was left alone with her for about five minutes outside a stage door. It was the only time I’ve ever been truly starstruck. Imagine…you’re alone with one of your idols, and you can’t even speak! [He pauses to shake his head as if in disbelief and then rolls his eyes.] I later regretted not jumping in the car with her when her driver arrived.
That would be fun, huh?! I did that once with Bette Midler…years ago. Have any of them attended your concerts?
None of them have…yet….but one can dream!
Of course! One must dream—always. What goes through your mind when you hear stories of your friends losing so many of their friends years ago?!
I’ve always had a strange emotional reaction to their stories when I hear about their loss due to AIDS. The idea of losing so many friends at once, of living in terror that you would be the next…it just hits home in too close a way. [He’s pensive, as he cocks his noggin off to the side. I lose him to the Twilight Zone for a minute.]
Oh sorry, Ruby. [His voice quivers.] I mourn the loss of so many theater talents from that time—and so many artists. [He halts.] Now we’re in another health crisis, and you see how quickly the world reacts when it’s not mainly gay people dying. [I sigh. Seth becomes silent then quietly utters] Ruby, it’s really just too awful to think about any of this for too long….[With that, he struggles to inhale, exhaling with a distressing sigh. Just then, raindrops appear on Seth’s apartment window.]
Like me, I know you can’t get enough of this gifted guy, so book your seat for his upcoming show at Feinstein’s/54 Below on Wednesday, October 20 at 7 p.m. in his latest show, Seth Sikes Sings the ‘20s.
Ruby Comer is an independent journalist from the Midwest who is happy to call Hollywood her home away from home. Reach her by e-mail at [email protected].