Seth Sikes performed his show Judy Garland’s 95th Birthday at Live At Zédel, London.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
Saturday 10 June this year would have been the 95th birthday of the legend that is Judy Garland. How fitting that a small gathering of fans should assemble at Live At Zédel to raise a glass in remembrance, so close to the London Hippodrome and the Palladium where she was lauded by her fans.
And who better than to lead the nostalgic pilgrimage through her life but ‘new kid on the block’ Seth Sikes. Here for his first concert in the UK, Sikes was clearly in his element, full of love for the iconic singer who unexpectedly led him back to a singing career.
Sikes has a resonant voice and an engaging personality. He does not attempt to look or sound like Garland in any way, but simply sings her songs as authentically and as wonderfully as possible.
In this quest Sikes absolutely succeeded, with a set list of songs that inspired his own life. Bursting forth with ‘Just You, Just Me’; ‘From This Moment On’; ‘When the Sun Comes Out’; ‘I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby’; Get Happy; and Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart.
Sikes’ exuberance is communicable. He introduced us to the young boy who grew up in Texas singing in the church choir and community, loving the young Judy who burst into everyone’s lives as Dorothy.
Obsessed by Garland, Broadway beckoned and so a young Sikes set off to study at acting school in the Big Apple itself. But contrary to expectations, it was here he surprisingly discovered that musical theatre didn’t really suit him at all and certainly wasn’t where his heart was, so he dropped performing to take up directing.
For a guy who clearly loves musicals and music, this must have been a confusing time, and indeed singing wasn’t going to let him go.
A combination of a wise and lovely Grandma taking no notice of this directing malarkey, plus new cosmopolitan friends who had Judy At Carnegie Hall in their record collection, introduced Sikes to ‘grown-up Judy’.
Grown-up Judy sounded different to Dorothy and also slightly scary(!), so it took a few years to get to grips with the material. But after a few love affairs and a real broken heart, those songs no longer were scary at all, but instead completely relevant and real.
‘If Love Were All’, ‘I’m in Love With a Wonderful Guy’ (Garland sang this on The Bob Hope Radio Show in 1951), and Kurt Weill’s poignant ballad ‘It Never Was You’ (which was recorded by Garland here in London) were beautiful sung.
Sikes was extremely blessed to be accompanied by the fabulous Jason Carr whose command of the piano was second to none. Superb musicality, style and virtuosity.
Sikes has a band for his concerts in America, but in this intimate venue Carr on the grand piano was all he needed. A magical and classy combination and I hope they work together again in the future. I was particularly struck by the wonderful detail and nuance in Carr’s playing in ‘The Man That Got Away’.
After all the emotion and pondering on what love is and whether it’s worth all the angst, Sikes lightened the pace and mood by inviting his audience to join in and sing along with ‘The Trolley Song’ and ‘For Me and My Gal’.
This could have been a real cheesy ‘oh no cringe’ moment but was instead affectionate and warm.
Sikes ended his 95th birthday tribute to Garland with a nostalgic look back to Dixieland, London and the Swanee River, starting with the 1918 ‘Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody’.
Its London connection was that Garland included the song in her album Miss Show Business in 1955, recording it in 1960 for her album The London Sessions, and also featuring the track in her 1961 album Judy At Carnegie Hall.
‘Stormy Weather’, ‘A Foggy Day’, ‘You Made Me Love You’ and ‘Swannee’ completed his set with high energy, followed by two encores ‘Happy Harvest’ and ‘After You’re Gone’.
A wonderful celebration of Garland’s legacy, full of exuberance. Beautifully sung, slick, engaging and very definitely from the heart.
Sikes is relatively young on the cabaret scene, having only started re-starting his singing career a few years ago. Immensely likeable and engaging, he is a name to watch out for. There’s definitely much more to come from Seth Sikes.