“Judy Garland saved my life.”
Not something you hear everyday, but something that rings true for Michael Hughes, playwright/performer of Lunchbox Theatre’s opening performance of their 2018/19 season, Mickey & Judy.
Having fallen in love with old black-and-white movies at a very young age, Hughes grew up living his life as the actors in the films, as a peformer: “Anytime anyone came over to visit I thought they were there to see me perform, so I was always trying to entertain.” Mickey & Judy loosely chronicles Hughes’s childhood and adolescence growing up in Toronto, and how his love of musicals, and those of Judy Garland, in particular, not only helped him through some very difficult times, but greatly influenced the adult he was to become.
Set in a cabaret-style, complete with dim lighting, candles and photos of the stars of old musicals on each table, this backdrop sets the stage, literally, for Hughes to deliver his life story through song and as the semi-fictional Mickey. Each vignette, each story Hughes tells describing his youth and his love of music involves a song or two that hits the emotional mark.
“In musicals the characters sing because they’re so overwhelmed that they can’t speak anymore,” explains Hughes, “and that’s how it was for me. Anytime I felt something that I couldn’t describe there was a song that I could sing and it would make sense of the way I was feeling.”
Mickey & Judy came about after Hughes had been given access to his files from the days where he would see a therapist as a child. In these records Hughes saw a funny, clever kid that was bullied in school for being different. “When I started getting bullied in school, the way to sort of cope with that was to develop a sense of humour, to be very self deprecating but also make people laugh, and maybe they won’t pick on you as much.”
Through the encouragement of friends, he turned his story into a funny, heart warming musical revue – to great success – taking the show to Scotland, London, New York and then back to Toronto.
Hughes has the ability to easily transition his story from the comical to the heart-wrenching, to masterfully belting out a show tune. Each song has meaning for Hughes, and on stage he is the performer.
And what is Hughes’s favourite song from the Garland era? “ You can’t not say Over the Rainbow!” he insists. “To me it’s such an important song because the Wizard of Oz, as a kid, was so important. And she’s searching for something, I’m searching for something, she meets these misfits that all think that they’re missing something, but they actually have the heart and the brain an the courage and as a kid I felt so different from others … I really identify with them.”
Mickey & Judy is a fantastic opener to Lunchbox’s season, and will have you singing along while being transported to another era. Hughes’s story speaks to a wide audience, and can make you smile, laugh and cry all within a few magical showtunes. Judy Garland would approve.
(Photo of Michael Hughes courtesy Benjamin Laird.)
Mickey & Judy runs until Oct. 6 at Lunchbox Theatre.
Kari Watson is a writer and former Listings Editor of FFWD Weekly, and has continued to bring event listings to Calgary through theYYSCENE and her event listings page, The Culture Cycle. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.