“I got a call from a childhood therapist’s office,” begins Michael Hughes, as he explains how his largely biographical cabaret, Mickey & Judy, came to be.

The therapist was doing a study of patient progress as adults. Michael didn’t have many memories of the therapist because he was only three and four years old when he visited.

“They sent me the therapists notes from my sessions, though,” he continues. “And they were hysterical. I immediately had nothing but stories to tell my friends.”

Michael, already a professional actor and singer at this point, almost immediately faced pressure from his colleagues and friends to turn these experiences into a performance. The result is a hilarious pseudo-memoir, chronicling Michael Hughes’ (Mickey’s) childhood obsession with musicals and his journey from the psychiatric ward to Off-Broadway.

Mickey & Judy is playing at The Rose Theatre on August 16 and 17.

Chock-full of comical anecdotes about his childhood spent channeling Judy Garland, dramatic readings from his psychologist’s charts and a musical score that borrows from Broadway classics and the Judy Garland songbook, Mickey & Judy is about learning to accept yourself and following your dreams.

“My parents have always said that everything about my personality changed the first time I saw The Wizard of Oz,” explains Hughes. “After I saw it, I began to sing and dance and put on shows with my friends.”

At kindergarten, his teacher even sent a note home explaining that the other kids had stopped being interested in playing games and sports and only wanted to put on shows with Michael. Not unlike his hero, Garland, his own future was coming into focus fast at five years old. 

“In every Judy Garland and Micky Rooney movie, when they were kids, the plot always seemed to focus around them getting a barn and putting on a show,” said Hughes. “That’s kind of what my life became focussed around.”

The world premiere of Mickey & Judy was a hit at the 2011 Toronto Fringe Festival. The show played to sold-out audiences and rave five-star reviews. It was named Best of Fringe, Critic’s Pick, Outstanding Production and Outstanding Performance by NOW Magazine and was nominated for the 2011 Broadway World Award for Best Independent Theatre Production.

“It was my first time in a Fringe festival,” says Hughes. “I couldn’t have asked for a better confirmation that I was onto something with the show.”

Not being one to miss an opportunity to put on a show, Mickey & Judy embarked on a highly acclaimed, award-nominated, international tour to Edinburgh (Scotland), London (England) and New York City in 2012. He came back to Toronto nearly exhausted just in time for the fifth annual Global Cabaret Festival at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts.

“It was a pretty big second step,” Hughes explains. “It was amazing but after doing nothing but making this show happen for months, I had to rest. Tyne Daly, from TV’s Cagney and Lacey, and her company wanted to extend my run in New York for three weeks and I just couldn’t do it. I was spent.”

His hard work did not go unrewarded. At the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the show played to sold-out houses, was named one of the HOT 100 (out of 3696 shows) and Editor’s Pick (GT Magazine, ScotsGay Magazine). In New York City, the show received a Broadway World Cabaret Award nomination for Best Male Debut and won the 2013 Bistro Award for Outstanding Debut. NOW Magazine theatre critic Glenn Sumi called Mickey & Judy one of his favourite shows of 2012.

The following year, Mickey & Judy received its regional premiere at his alma mater, Theatre Sheridan, where it broke box office records and had to be extended. Hughes is now excited to be touring the show across the country, including the stop in Brampton.

“I guarantee laughs,” Hughes says proudly. “I won’t guarantee that you’ll cry, though some people do, which is weird to me because it really is a joyous story about following your dreams and believing in yourself.”

Michael Hughes in Mickey & Judy runs August 16-17 at the Rose Theatre. Ticket information can be found online here.