A fierce and fabulous vocal talent and wholly original star of the NYC cabaret stage, Billy Lykken is back with a soul-satisfying, classic-yet-timely set.
Thotyssey: Hello Billy, thanks for chatting with us today! OMG, yesterday we were without Facebook and Instagram for much of the day… how did you survive?
Billy Lykken: I freaked out a little because I rely on Facebook to promote my show. But I kept telling myself… at least Zuckerberg lost 6 billion dollars.
That does bring comfort! It must be so great to be out performing in venues again. I saw you recently did classic cabaret spot Pangea’s anniversary show, with several other performers… how did that go?
It was a raucous party and a fabulous time! I love Pangaea. This will be my first solo show there, but I’ve been appearing regularly even before Covid–in Gerry Geddes‘ “Fabulous First Fridays.” Gerry is also directing [my upcoming Pangea show] Hot Mess: Billy’s Blues! The energy in that room is positive and exciting. I can’t wait.
So of course during lockdown, live performing opportunities were very limited. But you at least were able to do an outdoor show in front of Don’t Tell Mama!
Performing on a stoop in front of 50 people on Restaurant Row was amazing! The challenging part was the confusing city guidelines on live performance. Just before the show they made a rule that only “incidental” music was allowed, so I couldn’t sell tickets. We passed a tip hat around instead, and people were so generous and happy to be out that I made more money than any show I’ve ever done.
Broadway is back as well, now. Anything you’re looking forward to seeing in particular?
I’m an old school musical theater queen, so I’m so ready for Hugh Jackman in The Music Man. Company, too.
By the way, most of us got rather doughy sitting on our asses this past year. But you got snatched! What was your fitness secret?
Haha, thank you! I had already started getting fit before Covid hit… and as soon as it did, I was smart enough to snatch up home equipment before the price gouging started.
Where are you from originally, and how did you begin as a performer?
I was born in the Philippines, grew up in Seattle, and moved to NYC fifteen years ago to be an actor. But my real dream since I was a kid was to be a singer. I grew up listening almost exclusively to live diva albums: Liza Minnelli at the Winter Garden, Bette Midler: Live At Last, Diana Ross at Caesar’s Palace. I remember when I was a teenager, imagining that I was Barbra Streisand in the early 60’s singing with a trio at a small club like the Bon Soir. During Covid lockdowns, I realized… “Hey, I sort of achieved that!”
What were some of the first NYC venues you performed at, as a singer?
My boyfriend Rick Skye was the Liza Minnelli impersonator at Don’t Tell Mama’s long running MAC award-winning show Judy and Liza Together Again, with Tommy Femia as Judy Garland. I was so shy to sing back, then but I went to the show every weekend for seven years and really learned so much watching them perform. When I finally got the confidence to do my own show Sacred Monster, Sydney Myer booked me in the same room.
You’ve often appeared on stage androgynously, in makeup and jewelry and sometimes a kimono. What is the origin of that look?
It started as a characterization of my favorite “divas” melded together. I sort of threw the kitchen sink at those shows trying to do a Bette Midler-esque, very eclectic setlist. And I have a lot of fun dressing up. I’ve been slowly moving away from the characterization the last couple of years. I want Hot Mess! to be more about the music… and I’m lucky because my musicians are really excellent. I’ll still be dressed androgynously, but a little toned down from the past.
You also do a fierce version of Eartha Kitt’s brilliant Japanese cover of “Come on-a My House!” Do you know Japanese at all, or did you learn that phonetically?
Syllable by syllable! It was funny because my music director Yasuhiko Fukuoka is Japanese. The first time I did it for him I asked if I was speaking Japanese correctly. He said “yes,” and then I asked him what I was saying. He said “I don’t know!” That song is a lot of fun.
What are some of your other favorite numbers to do?
“Mississippi Goddam” by Nina Simone during the Trump years. I also love singing Aretha Franklin songs–I used to do “Ain’t No Way,” and this show I’m doing now was originally going to be songs Aretha wrote. I realize how insane it is to do Aretha songs because she was the greatest of all time, but people don’t know that she was an excellent songwriter. We’re doing four of her songs in Hot Mess!, two of them that she wrote.
Tell us more about Hot Mess!, which will be October 8, 9 and 11 at Pangea. It appears that this will be a more blues and jazz inspired set, right?
Yes, queer blues! The jazzier side of blues in a storytelling cabaret setting. I’ve never been more excited about the material; I’ve been listening to a lot of Lou Rawls, Helen Humes, Dinah Washington, and of course Aretha for inspiration. I’ve always had a hyper-emotional way of performing, and I’m really enjoying singing the blues. But it’s still going to be very musically varied, and definitely not sad!
Just what the witch doctor ordered, and an absolute Can’t Miss!
Lastly: it’s the spooky season! Have you ever seen a ghost, or had a supernatural experience?
Of course… I’m Filipino! We believe in everything: ghosts, elves, Jesus. I’ve had some pretty wild psychic readings where my grandma came for a visit. She says she’s fine.