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BWW Interviews: Showtunes, Smash and Edinburgh Fringe with Michael Hughes

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Michael Hughes’s one man show ‘Mickey & Judy’ was a smash hit at last year’s Toronto Fringe Festival – selling out its run and winning a Best of Fringe Award. Based loosely on his own childhood experience, the show chronicles Hughes’s obsession with musicals. The show was conceived out of a childhood spent channeling Judy Garland, and includes actual excerpts from the chart’s of doctors Hughes saw while in a psychiatric ward.

After thrilling audiences this summer, Mickey & Judy gets its European premiere later this year at the world famous Edinburgh Festival. To celebrate and raise funds for the journey, Hughes is back for one night only at The Toronto Centre for the Arts. BWW spoke with him about the journey to Edinburgh, the success of the show and his love of all things musical theatre:

When you first started this journey, did you ever dream it would take you to Edinburgh?

Oh man! When I first started this project the only thing I was dreaming about was surviving the Toronto Fringe run.

But once we were a success, I decided to take a page out of Mickey & Judy and dream as big as possible, and that led me to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It’s the largest theatre festival in the world - you can’t get much bigger than that.

What was the first thing you did when you found out you had been accepted to the Edinburgh Fringe? Who was the first person you told?

I told my parents, my younger sister and SharRon Matthews right away. They had all been helping me figure out the logistics of how I was going to be able to do this and Sharron was instrumental in helping me get booked. Her endorsement of Mickey & Judy saved me months of work.

The show was a smash-hit at The Toronto Fringe. What do you think helped it have such universal appeal? Could it be that we all just really love showtunes?

It very well could be that we all just really love showtunes!

It’s really hard for me to try and pinpoint why the show had such a universal appeal.

American photographer Diane Arbus said “The more specific you are, the more general it’ll be”. And I think that might have been the case with Mickey & Judy. I wrote my story and tried to be as specific and honest as possible and it seems people were able to identify with it.

And while the story is specific the themes are universal. Everyone has a dream. Everyone has felt like an outsider. Everyone has felt heartbreak. And (fingers crossed) everyone really loves showtunes!

You have a fundraiser coming up on the 21st- have you tweaked the show at all since its Fringe run? Will there be any surprises for those who come out to support the show?

In the year since Mickey & Judy premiered at the Toronto Fringe Festival, I have learned a lot. I attended the International Cabaret Conference at Yale University, studied Stand-Up Comedy at the Second City, and Le Jeu and Clown with Philippe Gaulier of L’ecole Phlippe Gaulier in Paris, France. I know all those classes and experiences will have an impact on my performance and writing. And I am excited to get onstage with the show and see how things will change.

Are you making any changes for the NYC and Edinburgh audiences?

I am going to have to do some research to make sure that I am not using too many Canadian phrases that might be confusing to Edinburgh audiences. But I think they can probably handle it (eh?).

For anyone who still doesn't know about the show, could you give us a Coles notes version of what to expect?

Mickey & Judy is a musical-memoir, chronicling my childhood obsession with musicals and my journey from the psychiatric ward to Off-Broadway. Chock-full of comical anecdotes about my childhood spent channeling Judy Garland, dramatic readings from my childhood psychologist’s charts, and a musical score that borrows from Broadway classics and the Judy Garland songbook.

What shows are currently on your iPod right now? What's been your best musical theatre discovery of 2012 so far?

Anything Goes (2011). I love Sutton Foster. Anything Goes was the best thing I saw on Broadway last year. I cried on the subway ride home.

Get Out (Gavin Creel). I love his first album and E.P. so I am sure this one is going to become a favourite. His voice is a dream and he is a nice guy too.

Newsies (Original Broadway Cast Recording). It dropped April 10th and I was super excited to hear it. I grew up loving my VHS copy of Newsies, and when it became available on DVD I remember being so excited. The song Santa Fe was in an early draft of Mickey & Judy, I’m not going to tell you how it fit in, in case one day I want to put it back. I will say that it involved my high school cafeteria, a payphone and some trademark Michael Hughes weirdness. Good times.

SMASH (Let Me Be Your Star and History Is Made At Night). I love Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. Their music for the Marilyn musical is the highlight of an hour of television that frequently makes me want to beat myself in the face with a baseball bat (Joe Dimaggio reference for anyone who is still watching the show).

There's been increasing discussion of the lack of young people in the theatre today. What do you think we need to do as a community to encourage the next generation to come out and check out the live arts?

The only way we can get the next generation into the theatre is by leading them there. Parents and teachers have to be willing to get their kids to turn off the computer, television, video games, and cell phone for a few hours and go see a play or a musical with them.

Arts education is huge. Theatre companies like the Young Peoples Theatre make it that much easier by providing study guides and subsidized programmes. According to their website they serve over 80,000 teachers and students a year. I remember going there with my class when I was a kid (I also went to summer camp there one year). I took my niece and nephew to see Suessical: The Musical and they are still talking about it.

The Toronto Fringe has FringeKids! at the Palmerston Library. Admission for a child is around $6. I’ve taken my nieces and nephews to shows there over the years and it’s a wonderful opportunity to expose them to theatre without breaking the bank.

Finally...Smash or Glee? And why? (Or neither)

Submissions Only! It’s got more guest stars than GLEE and it’s campier than Smash.

Anyone who follows me on twitter (@mickehughes & @mickeyandjudy) knows that I have very intense feelings for Smash and Glee. I love that they are bringing Music Theatre into millions of people’s homes every week, but the writing is painful. At least GLEE knows that it is totally ridiculous. Smash is just schizophrenic.

When and Where?

Mickey & Judy

The Toronto Centre for the Arts

One night only – Saturday April 21st at 8PM

Tickets are $25 and can be purchased online at http://www.ticketmaster.com/Mickey-and-Judy-tickets/artist/1697314

For additional information or to donate to help since Mickey & Judy to Edinburgh please visit the official website at: www.mickeyandjudy.ca


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