Cabaret


The Solo Performer Is the "Mickey"—and Judy is Garland
Michael Hughes in Mickey & Judy at The Duplex

by Rob Lester

Mickey & Judy
Mickey & Judy
Photo courtesy of the performer
Here's a look at the theatrical cabaret act of a bright talent with a fun and funny autobiographical act, with a thoughtful core, sailing through NYC (with stops at Feinstein's Broadway Ballyhoo!, the open mics, and as one of many artists at a cancer benefit at the Laurie Beechman Theatre on the 24th) with a future. Free admission for some lucky Talkin' Broadway readers available; full info at the bottom of this article.

With disarming energy and a wide-eyed innocent eager-beaver look that can flip into a winking cat-that-swallowed-the-canary mischievous grin, Michael Hughes joyfully bounds onto the stage and jumps into his life story about his obsession with Broadway and movie musicals that began as a toddler. Actually professional since childhood, he's done stage roles, film, a TV series and commercials, but doesn't name-drop those in his musical memoir. It's more about being the misfit child with a fixation for musicals, and the one-hour solo act is about 60% singing and 40% well-honed, lively spoken recollections.

Judy Garland was/is the favorite performer of this gregarious guy, who is himself a solid musical-comedy performer and Garland's trademark songs supply the bulk of bubbly Hughes's well-sung material in his show at Greenwich Village's Duplex Cabaret Theatre. (It opened this week, with two more performances: Saturday, September 15 and Thursday, September 20, both at 7 pm). But there's much more. There's Gypsy's defiant declaration of independence, "Some People," to define his drive and individualism. He has a couple of Kander & Ebb numbers, too. There's "Dressing Them Up" (Kiss of the Spider Woman) as he recalls enthusiastically kidnapping his sisters' dolls and giving them new dramatic wardrobes and hair styles—which extended to his own fantasy dress-up tastes-—and that famous number that gave the film New York, New York its title and became an anthem for the city and for those who feel its pull to "make it there." The talented Toronto native is one of the many who felt that way (and his impressive performance in a multi-performer show during his last trip to NYC, in 2009, was my first exposure to him, and I've been following his progress long distance since: his being chosen in a competition to be in producer David Foster's tour when he was allowed a night off from the Canadian cast of All Shook Up, playing Dean, his solo pop CD, his entry into cabaret at home, and his strong reviews for his just-completed performances in Europe).

Michael Hughes
Michael Hughes
Photo by Maryann Lopinto
One of the amusingly self-deprecating anecdotes in his theatrical piece now on the NYC cabaret stage after award-winning runs in both the Toronto and Edinburgh Fringe Festivals, and then performances in London, is about trying to run away from home at age six, heading in the wrong direction for New York, but not making it past his neighborhood. His second attempt as teenager, wherein he fabricated a school trip and permission slip, let him slip away more successfully for an adventure of several days. Then it was back to his home-not-so-sweet-home town and the intense bullying he endured for being "different." But if Hughes paid his dues by being picked on, he doesn't dwell on it or pave the path to a pity party—it's all part of the self-acceptance theme of the performance piece which actually could afford to pause and elaborate there. The actor ingratiates himself so much with charm and the likeability quotient that the audience caring that's generated would permit more welcomed time lingering on the serious side. Instead, Mickey & Judy chugs along chipperly and briskly, like the vehicle in the classic Garland number "The Trolley Song," which much of the audience on opening night knew most of the words to and sang along at his invitation. No, the title of the piece is not a reference to the Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland movies, though he loves them, and Rooney only gets a passing mention (his male film fave was Gene Kelly).

Certainly that "Let's put on a show!" common plot of those films defined his childhood of make-believe and playing characters constantly—something that was so extreme and intense that his parents brought him to a child psychiatrist. This becomes a major element of the show—with lighthearted but interesting recollections, many refreshed in his memory when the same doctor brought him in a few years ago for a follow-up study on former patients and he got access to the extensive notes taken at the time. He gamely quotes from them, with distance that makes it non-voyeuristic and very comfortable for him and us, knowing well which will get audience laughs. Some of those giggles and guffaws seemed to be tinged with familiarity from spectators who also were born performers or who didn't follow the strict gender roles and expected behaviors society imposes in any generation. The dolls and dresses weren't locked up, but a neighborhood boy was "hired" to teach him to learn how to play with GI Joe toy army men—which little Mickey wanted to line up as chorus boys and create "a Broadway-style revue." You get the idea.

I find Mickey and Mickey & Judy thoroughly delightful and entertaining, but on the constructive side, I think it could benefit from being expanded and going deeper. His innate honesty and sensitivity—and performance skills—could allow him to make this a richer and more moving piece if he decides to let it turn a more emotional corner and "go there." The angst, uncertainty, and searching he skims over—in an admirable desire not to be self-indulgent, but rather more universal and put the spotlight on dazzle and dreams instead of drama—could be dipped into, should he wish. I think the audience would embrace him for this and he'd touch our hearts even more. The show is heartfelt, especially in the Gershwins' "But Not for Me"; and if some of the numbers' piano arrangements were more personalized, rather than the by-the-music book, standard Garland standards' approach and salutes, that would bring an already fine show to a refined and newly defined level. Now, it's (in the best sense of the word) sweet as well as sincere and sure-footed in its choice to be breezy and buoyant ... and is a true pleasure. And that's plenty. At the Duplex, Michael Hughes has charisma and energy is unstoppable. Stop in.




For possible free admission to the show, enter the contest shown at the end of the article at this link.

And TalkinBroadway.com readers can reply with the secret password "TalkinBroadway" to any trivia question they don't know the answer to, and that will be treated as a correct answer.

More info on the show, including a video preview, is available at www.mickeyandjudy.ca. For more on the artist at www.mickehughes.com.

The Duplex is at 61 Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, NYC (corner of Seventh Avenue; take the #1 subway to Christopher Street). Regular admission is $10. There is also a two-drink minimum (the minimum applies to most contest winners). Mickey & Judy runs September 15 and 20, both at 7 pm. Reservations can be made online for this and other shows at the venue's Cabaret Calendar page.