Valley Native Bringing George Michael Tribute Show to Robins Theatre

When Robert Bartko was in seventh grade, George Michael was topping the charts.

And that’s when Bartko’s friends in Boardman started noticing he bore a strong resemblance to the British pop star, whose 1980s hits include “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” and “Careless Whisper.”

It turned out that Bartko also sang just like the late Michael.

Bartko has parlayed his look-alike, sound-alike and move-alike skills into a tribute show that recreates the George Michael concert experience. His “George Michael Reborn” tour will come to Robins Theatre in Warren on Jan. 20.

In a phone interview, Bartko talked about his lifelong connection to Michael’s music and his upcoming hometown premiere.

“I always say that tributing George Michael isn’t something that I chose,” Bartko said. “It chose me.”

Bartko attended St. Charles School in Boardman before his family moved to Florida, where he attended high school. Today, he lives in Utah with his wife and their children but still has family in the Youngstown area.

He vividly remembers the first time he heard Michael sing.

“I had never heard of George Michael [at the time], but I had friends who said I looked just like him and sound like him when I sing,” he said. “I was at a friend’s house the first time I saw the album cover, and it felt like I was looking at a long-lost brother. When he put the needle down on the record, it was a magical moment, because his voice captivated me.”

Bartko said he began listening to Michael nonstop, “to the point of nauseating my friends.” A member of his school drama club choir, he would perform Michael songs at talent shows.

Bartko launched his professional music career in the early 1990s. He had moderate success as a music producer and also was the lead singer of the 1990s dance band Count to Twenty.

His dance music career had a resurgence in 2018. “I put out some new music and started getting calls from booking agents,” Bartko said. 

The George Michael comparison kept coming up in business meetings, as the superstar had suddenly died just two years earlier, in 2016.

“They said to me, ‘If you put together a tribute show, we could market that even bigger than your solo career,’” Bartko said.

That’s what he did, and it was an immediate hit.

“The first show out of the gate was at the Anaheim [California] House of Blues in 2019,” he said. “It sold out. From there, the show took off.”

“George Michael Reborn” routinely sold out 2,000- to 3,000-capacity rooms, and soon caught the attention of Deon Estus, who was George Michael’s bass player.

Estus loved the show and asked if he could join Bartko on stage. The two would team up for several shows. “It was magical,” Bartko said.

Then the COVID pandemic hit and brought the live music industry to a halt for a year or so.

Bartko’s George Michael Reborn show has since resumed touring and has a dozen confirmed dates nationwide in the first quarter of this year.

For every ticket purchased to the Robins Theatre concert, $2 will be donated to United Way of Trumbull County. There will also be a 50-50 raffle to benefit the agency.

Tickets for the 7 p.m. concert range from $35 to $15 (plus applicable fees). Click here.

Pictured at top: Robert Bartko performs as George Michael.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.