Cabaret Review by Joe Regan Jr.
Ten years ago cabaret diva Annie Hughes left New York City for a small town in Wisconsin because, in her own words, she wanted to “live near water.” She did not totally drop out of the cabaret world, sometimes returning for guest appearances, and once a year, during the summer, Daryl Kojak, her musical director, and Ritt Henn, bass player, would travel to Wisconsin and do a charity benefit for animal causes with her. Last summer they decided the show was too good not to do it in New York City, and Sidney Meyer booked her for Don’t Tell Mama October 2. In the meantime she was diagnosed with a serious illness and ended up with a titanium larynx. All this was related humorously in Hughes’ opening monologue to a packed room of cabaret VIPS with the lights up so she could see so many familiar faces. Hughes is a master of comic monologues, with great facial expressions, as she described her crazy life with men and animals.
If there was any doubt her voice would have changed severely, it was demolished in her first number, a Jason Robert Brown song that she introduced years ago, “I’m Not Afraid,” with her superb phrasing and skillful use of her vibrato, and her extraordinary high notes. The same originality and amazing phrasing was in her second number, a salute to poor Julie Andrews botched operation, a zany “My Favorite Things.”
After more humorous discussion of describing her doctors, telling them to look her up on YouTube, and a vivid description of her very gay anesthesia, Hughes told how when she came to NYC to study at the Manhattan School of Music but ended up at HB Studio studying musical comedy with Rita Gardner. In class, Gardner said words to her about finding the inner meaning to lyrics. In her honor, Hughes did a spot on “Just Once.”
A great match up was Hughes singing Mae Barnes version of “The Laziest Girl in Town” including all the verses with Madeline Kahn’s “I’m Tired,” in the middle of which Hughes actually feigned falling asleep till Henn played a strong note to walk her. It was genius…reminding us how much we miss Hughes in New York.
Other highlights were “My Time of Day” mixed with “In the Still of the Night,” and a humorous encounter with Craig Carnelia about his song “Picture in the Hall” which she proceeded to do her way with all her eccentric arm waving and wonderful support from Kojak and Henn. Discussing the death of her father and living as a single woman with her mother alone for several years, she honored how she missed them with “You Are There” and “Company.”
She told Kojak about one of the songs she had always wanted to sing. He came up with a sensational Brechtian Weill arrangement of “My Ship” on which Hughes elicited bravas from the packed house.
I never thought I would enjoy another diva singing “Defying Gravity” but Hughes’ soaring version proved me wrong. She sailed all over the high notes and gave an animated performance of that song from “Wicked.” It caused a full standing ovation from the entire house. After that number she gave her thank yous to Myer, Kojak, Henn, and her superb new team member, lighting and sound man, Jason Ellis.
Rather than leave the room, she told the back story of a song she wrote the lyrics for with a partner who only wrote the music. After their breakup, the partner gave the music to Rochelle Seldin (in the audience) and Rochelle asked her to correct the lyrics (because Hughes wrote them). It was that great parody of the tongue twisting lyrics that begins “Dear Mr. Sondheim” and needless to say Hughes gave it the full comic treatment to the delight of everyone!
The last encore was a song written by Kojak and his wife. It was a lovely ballad with a lyric about a quiet place called home.
No one equals Annie Hughes in comic antics and the surprise is that the voice doesn’t seem to have diminished at all. I can’t wait for her next visit, hoping it will be sooner than a year!