Michael Hughes recounts his love affair with Judy Garland in Mickey & Judy.
MICHAEL HUGHES: MICKEY & JUDY as part of the Global Cabaret Festival Saturday (October 13), 3:45 pm, and Sunday (October 14), 2 pm. Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House). $20-$25, stu $15, passes $57-$108. 416-866-8666, globalcabaret.ca. See listing.
When Michael Hughes was a teen growing up in Toronto's Beach neighbourhood, he'd often skip church to worship at the Princess of Wales and Royal Alex theatres.
"I wouldn't even go in," he says. "I'd walk around the stage doors and imagine myself coming out."
He hasn't yet performed in either of those venerable institutions - one of which is soon to be demolished, of course - but he's well on his way with his acclaimed solo show, Mickey & Judy.
One of the bona fide hits of the 2011 Toronto Fringe, the show - which recounts his early obsessions with cross-dressing, performing and Judy Garland - has since toured to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and Manhattan.
Now local audiences get another chance to see it at the Young Centre's Global Cabaret Festival.
Since the Fringe, the charismatic artist has studied cabaret at Yale, taken a course in stand-up at Second City and a master class with legendary French clown Philippe Gaulier.
"All of these things helped me define what I was doing in the show," says Hughes, who also lent his vocals to the National Ballet of Canada's West Side Story Suite several seasons ago and toured North America with David Foster & Friends.
"The clown class especially taught me how you have to connect to an audience," he says. "I did a benefit performance of the show and got laughs where I'd never got them and was much more physical and present."
That skill has come in handy, especially with the reserved Edinburgh audiences.
"Some days I'd think they wanted to stab me. Their facial expressions and body language were so horrific, I couldn't wait to get offstage," he laughs. "It was like pulling teeth to get a laugh. But then afterwards they'd want autographs and pictures and to buy me drinks."
What he found odd in Scotland was that many people - including some reviewers - didn't recognize the show's songs, like The Man That Got Away and Do It Again.
"Some even thought I'd written them," he says. "Which I guess was a compliment, because they helped tell the story."
He had no problem with that in New York City, of course.
His shows at Village haunt the Duplex were well attended by musical-theatre lovers ("When I asked people to sing along at the end it was in five-part harmony," he laughs), but his big spine-tingling moment came earlier.
"The Monday I arrived, I went to an open mic at Birdland, and some producers asked me to do a show Thursday at Feinstein's," he says, referring to the classic cabaret spot run by Michael Feinstein.
"Feinstein wasn't supposed to be there, but he's working on a show with Marilyn Maye, who was on the bill, and he showed up. Plus, it was his birthday. So there was cake.
"When I spotted him in the audience, I changed my entire patter. I talked about how at Sheridan we used to watch videos of him deconstructing Gershwin songs."
Hughes would love to tour Mickey & Judy across Canada and the U.S., eventually settling in Manhattan.
"That's the dream," he says. "If you're there, opportunities happen. The cabaret scene is so vibrant, they have a series of awards specifically devoted to it."
I say a year or two, and then we'll start spreadin' the news.