“Almost no one loves Liza as much as I do.”
Such is the bold and ballsy statement made by longtime superfan Rick Skye. He’s probably right, though. Considering the “Liza” in question is none other than Ms. Minnelli herself, whom he’s been lovingly impersonating for the last 17 years, he’s got a lot of competition in the fandom department.
Though a dynamic performer and established cabaret artist in his own right, Skye’s much-lauded send-up of the celebrated stage legend has cemented his spot within the theatrical community, bringing him accolades and acclaim across the boards. He’s played venues big and small throughout New York, the U.S., and the world at large, capping off a nearly two-decade journey as the daughter of Judy Garland winning the coveted MAC Award for Best Impersonation last March.
But still, that wasn’t enough. Now, he’s back in the Big Apple to deliver “70 minutes of POW!” with his ritzy, glitzy revue, Bazazz! A Sequined Variety, playing Don’t Tell Mama December 29th and 31st.
Chock-full of guest stars, special material, and impromptu duets, spoofing everything from Cabaret to “New York, New York” to Liza’s Tony-winning turn in The Act, Skye’s fun-filled program promises to be a feel-good, laugh riot extravaganza he guarantees you won’t soon forget.
Prior to his razzle-dazzle performances, we caught up with Skye his influence in the cabaret world, the key to nailing a great impersonation, what Minnelli really thinks of his act, and much more. Scroll down to see Skye’s answers, and then check out the heralded impersonator for yourself! We’re sure you’ll have a great time… full of life, laughter, and, of course, a dash of “Bazazz!”
Why should someone come to Bazazz! A Sequined Variety? What does your show offer that you couldn’t get anywhere else?
The audience is getting a very knowing performance that is polished in every detail [as a result of] years of experience. Everyone involved in this show is a master of “in one” performing, who has put in at least 20 years entertaining audiences. And, of course, it’s all happening live, with only piano accompaniment, so there’s plenty of room for ad-libbing and audience participation! People who enjoy classic American music and laugh-out-loud comedy can just float out of the [venue] on a real high. After all, we aim to please!
Why did you choose Liza to impersonate? What about her initially spoke to you?
I have always loved Liza. She represents the perfection — the epitome — of a certain kind of performance to me [that] allows me to express myself fully in the way I want to... with energy, emotion, and “Bazazz!”
As for how I began performing as her, I sort of fell into it. I wrote a show entitled MacCabaret: A Tabloid Fable, which spoofed a variety of stars, including Liza Minnelli. [At the time], nobody was available to do the Liza number. So, I just plopped on a wig and did it myself. It was the hit of the show.
Some months later, Sidney Meyer, [booking director] at Don’t Tell Mama, called and encouraged me to develop a full-length show [around the Liza persona]. And it essentially grew from there. The rest, as they say, is history.
Have you received any advice from Ms. Minnelli herself? Has she seen the show? What are her thoughts?
Billy Stritch, Liza’s longtime musical director, once told me he had been watching videos of me online and he “got what I was doing,” and thought it was hilarious. We’ve only been open since October and, you know, [Liza] lives in Los Angeles, so at this time, that’s the closest I’ve come to her seeing me. But, come on! Billy Stritch?! I’ll take it!!
What is it that makes your Liza impression unique compared to others?
I don’t lip-synch. I sing live with my own voice. As a man, I do have to sing some of her songs about a third [octave] below the keys she sings in, but other than that, I try to look and sound like her as much as I possibly can.
What makes the comedy work so well, too, is that I fully believe in every moment that I am Liza. And in doing that, all the action and the dialogue and the stories that I tell come from a very real place, which affects an audience more than if I were [just playing a caricature].... and makes all the little twists I throw in that much funnier.
You’ve taken your Liza character all over the world. How do you find people’s perception of Minelli changes from city to city and country to country? Do you find she’s more well-known in a certain area of the world? Why?
Well, the people who love Liza never change. They get every reference — no matter how small — that I make. They’re extremely well-versed in the language of show business, and knowledgeable about Liza’s public persona as well.
The biggest difference I find is that in, say, London, they appreciate the wordplay of the parodies more than they do here... you can actually feel them loving the way I twist the language.
In the U. S., people can sometimes be a little too serious about stars they obsess over. [Abroad], they have a great capacity to love their stars, but at the same time, also enjoy someone who pokes fun at that star a bit.
Generally speaking, what’s the key to nailing a great impression?
You have to [evoke] the essence of whomever you’re impersonating… and get at the heart, the mind, the intentions. It’s really a magical thing when the audience goes from judging what they see before them — [in my case] “does he look like her? Does he sound like her?” — to, as I was saying before, actually believing they are seeing her. And that’s what you have you have to create for them. It’s all in the acting, the concentration, and the belief. And a little theatrical magic, natch.
If you could duet with Liza on any song, which one would you choose and why?
I think it would be too hard to have both us belting away [on] a really emotional song. [For that reason], it would have to be “A Quiet Thing,” from Flora the Red Menace. We could actually harmonize on that one (laughs). It would be a dream come true.
What’s the best piece of advice you could offer an aspiring impressionist?
There has to be a point of view. For example, I would never do a show where I just stand around and sing “Liza with a Z.” That’s not my act… that’s her [Liza’s] act, and she worked hard to develop that act. It’s not my place [to replicate it exactly], and frankly, it wouldn’t be much fun.
Usually, people who impersonate other people are doing it because they love them. Pinpoint what it is you love about that person and channel it to make your act unique. Do research… read books… gather information. Make the [person] your own — emulate, but don’t imitate — and you’ll be sure to soar.
What do you hope audiences leave with after seeing this show?
Life is short, so lighten up! Have a good belly laugh, get things done, and live, live, live!!! Take home these 70 minutes of pure joy we’ll create for you and use the experience to lift you up when you are down. And of course, above all, do everything with a little “Bazazz!”
Bazazz! A Sequined Variety plays Don’t Tell Mama (343 W. 46th Street) on December 29th, and returns for a special New Year’s Eve performance December 31st. For tickets, times, and more information, visit www.donttellmamanyc.com.