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A Friend of Dorothy and Liza with a Z

July 12, 2017 5:00 am0 commentsViews: 98
Photo: Mitch Zachary

Photo: Mitch Zachary

by Steve Desroches

It’s one of the great mysteries of the universe. One that maybe someday science can finally solve. Theories abound, as does a persistent mythology, but there is no definitive answer as to why so many gay men have such a deep affection for and connection with Judy Garland, the platinum standard for a gay icon. Even nearly 50 years after her death Garland’s place in gay culture continues to flourish, spanning generations with the classic Hollywood star still a favorite of drag queens, gay piano bars, and, of course, the role her song “Over the Rainbow” has in gay history. Garland has fans of all sexual orientations, but it’s undeniable that there is something special about Garland for many gay men dating back to the 1940s when they used the secret slang “a friend of Dorothy” to identify each other.

For cabaret singer Seth Sikes, his affinity for Garland began when he was about 5 or 6 and he and his Aunt Stacey watched Summer Stock together. After seeing the classic 1950 MGM musical he was transfixed.  The attraction was immediate and deep. And several years later, when his aunt told him that Liza Minnelli was Garland’s daughter, his devotion became a family affair. Growing up in Paris, Texas, Sikes was not like kids his age, not so much because of his sexuality, which even he didn’t figure out until later, but because while his friends listened to the pop songs of the day, he loved songs like “The Man That Got Away” and “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart.”  All those theories as to why Garland is a gay icon – the tragedy, the camp, her funeral the day of the Stonewall riots – were unknown to the young Sikes. He just knew he loved her.

“I think this is a much broader question, a huge question,” says Sikes. “It’s THE great gay question!”

One of the hottest nightclub performers in New York City, Sikes continually packs houses with his shows Seth Sikes Sings Judy Garland and Seth Sikes Sings Liza Minnelli, two sincere performances of the work of these two legends. No impersonation and no hyped up camp, but rather these are his own interpretations of some of the most beloved songs that Garland and Minnelli made American classics. He brings his homage to Judy this week to the Crown and Anchor and then returns in August for his concert celebrating Liza.

Seth posing along side Judy Garland.

Seth posing along side Judy Garland.

Sikes began his career on stage getting a role in the off-Broadway production of Fame not long after graduating from the Circle in the Square Theatre School in New York, where he now lives.  But his interests soon drew him behind the scenes as an assistant director for a variety of Broadway and off-Broadway shows, still occasionally singing at popular gay piano bars in Greenwich Village like Marie’s Crisis and The Monster. But three years ago he did a one-night-only show on a dare from a friend, singing only Garland songs. That one night led to offers to perform elsewhere, landing him at Feinstein’s/54 Below, then to San Francisco, and now the Crown and Anchor.  His performance and presentation continue to draw critical acclaim as he presents the work inspired by what it is that he so loves about Garland’s interpretations.

“What I respond to is not the music so much as it is the lyrics,” says Sikes. “When Judy sings a lyric, it’s lyrics first. She has this big, crazy voice, but when she sings a song you hear every word. She puts everything into it. She’s totally immersed in the song with raw emotion.”

Sikes made his Provincetown debut last summer at the Crown and Anchor, and while he describes himself as a “Fire Island boy,” he found himself completely charmed by the Cape tip. The culture of shows in Provincetown delighted him, as did the laid back nature of the town compared to the “macho” and “stuffy” vibe of the Pines. That’s why he wanted to come for dates in both July and August, so he could explore the town more.

Seth posing along side Liza Minelli.

Seth posing along side Liza Minelli.

All of his success with his Judy and Liza shows has been such a pleasant surprise, says Sikes. It has him back on stage and in the spotlight again, and singing music that means so much to him personally is extra sweet. And audiences love it, both gay and straight. Being a part of keeping the work of Garland and Minnelli fresh and relevant is a real thrill, one he loves to share with equally enthusiastic fans of Dorothy. But don’t expect to hear “Over the Rainbow,” Garland’s classic from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, because as Liza once said when asked why she doesn’t sing it “It’s been done.” And Sikes agrees. Rather its Sikes, his beautiful voice, and an amazing songbook.

“Judy has changed my life,” says Sikes. “So did Liza. They brought me to New York.  At my happiest, or during heartbreaks, whatever I was going through they were there. They’ve been there for me my entire life.”

Seth Sikes presents Seth Sikes Sings Judy Garland at the Crown and Anchor, 247 Commercial St. on Tuesday, July 18 at 8 p.m. He returns on Monday, August 7 with Seth Sikes Sings Liza Minnelli. Tickets for each show are $25 general admission and $40 for VIP and are available at the box office and online at onlyatthecrown.com. For more information call 508.487.1430.