There’s never been anything like the artist and entertainer George Michael. But here’s something pretty close.
“George Michael Reborn: Tribute to Wham! & George Michael, starring Robert Bartko” debuts at Lake Tahoe on Saturday with a performance in the Crystal Bay Casino’s Crown Room.
“I view it as a take on the life and spirit of George Michael and I try to immerse people in an experience as if they were seeing George Michael live back in 1988 during the height of his career touring the United States,” said Robert Bartko.
“He had an unmatched sex appeal and he had an incredible soulfulness to his voice. And George Michael knew how to write radio-friendly catchy hooks. He made great soul records. His reach was beyond a typical pop reach.”
Michael, who died in 2016, was a post-disco icon who exploded upon the world when his duo with Andrew Ridgeley, Wham! released the albums “Fantastic” in 1983 and “Make it Big” in 1984. Americans have a penchant for falling for British artists and Michael’s timing was perfect as the MTV era was under way. He went solo in 1987 with the album “Faith,” and sold a total of 120 million records with eight No. 1 songs in the U.S. and U.K. He was one of the first international pop artists to perform in China, where soldiers unsuccessfully tried to stop concertgoers from dancing.
Bartko, a standout running back and theater performer in high school, became a quick fan of Michael.
“My friend said, ‘Have you heard of this hot new group Wham? You look just like the singer,” Bartko recalled. “It was the first time I fell in love with music. It was like my heart had found its musical attachment.”
His life would never be the same because he kept hearing the same thing: “Every time I opened my mouth to sing, people would say, ‘You sound just like the guy in Wham!’”
After college, Bartko became a singer-songwriter and a producer, most notably for the rock group Korn. In 2018, he made an album released on a German label in the style of 1990s dance music.
“Over and over agencies told me, ‘I love your new record but has anybody ever told you that you sound like the late great George Michael?’ I’ve heard it my entire life. One agent said, ‘I could book you as Robert Bartko for this amount of money but goodness but if you gave me a George Michael show I could book the crap out of that thing for big money.’ In 2019 decided to give it a go.”
The show was an instant success, selling out Anaheim’s House of Blues on Aug. 17, 2019. Soon afterward, Bartko received the ultimate endorsement. Deon Estus — the bass player for Wham! — not only loved the show, he wanted to be part of it. Estus played events with Bartko at The Concert Lounge in Riverside and the Gas Lamp in Long Beach. During a post-show meet-and-greet, Estus’ manager whispered to Bartko, “I haven’t seen Deon smile like this since the passing of his best friend.”
“If felt like he had traveled back in a mystical time machine where we recaptured some of the Wham! nostalgia and feeling,” Bartko said.
Sadly, Estus died of heart failure in October at the age of 65.
The Covid situation stalled the George Michael tribute in March 2020 but it resumed big time since May 2021.
“It’s quite an honor to be going around sharing his music with people who loved and appreciated it,” Bartko said. “I liken George Michael songs to recipes. He cooked up some incredible recipes that people loved to taste, and I get the honor of continuing to cook those recipes up and serve them to people. I love it. I’m so happy doing it.”
- “George Michael Reborn: Tribute to WHAM & George Michael starring Robert Bartko”
- When: 9 p.m. Saturday, March 5
- Where: Crystal Bay Casino Crown Room
- Tickets: $20 in advance or $25 on the day of the show
Some of the hit songs by Wham! and George Michael
“A Different Corner”
“I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” duet with Aretha Franklin
“One More Try”
“Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”
“I Want Your Sex”
“Do They Know It’s Christmas?”
“One More Try”