michael hughes and callandra dendias
The Berkeley Street Theatre was packed and abuzz on Monday evening, with a most diverse theatre audience ranging in age from almost six months to one hundred years old; members of the public, friends, family and even a furry friend all convened for Michael Hughes’ highly anticipated return to Cabaret as part of Acting Upstage’s Dark Night Cabaret Series. Hughes, who recently joined the David Foster and Friends tour when it stopped in Vancouver this past November, joined forces with his best friend Callandra Dendias (Toronto’s Mamma Mia) for Unexpressed: An Evening of Songs from the Heart with the amazing trio of Greg Gibson (piano/musical director), Steve Lucas (bass) and Steve Heathcote (drums).
As a performer Michael Hughes harkens back to a classier more suave and sophisticated time. As he stood onstage, the very definition of dapper, his hands casually in his pockets crooning “Almost Like Being In Love” (Lerner and Loewe, 1947), the audience was suddenly transported back to the days of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, for a well-deserved break from the caustic cynicism of the technological age. The evening began with Hughes singing Adam Guettel’s “Hero and Leander,” a song that captures the passion of star-crossed lovers from Greek mythology. This song, along with the Cabaret’s title song, “Unexpressed” by John Bucchino, were both sung with a quieter gentleness than the rest of the evening’s, which tended to showcase Hughes’ signature belt. Michael Hughes knows the most effective way to use his voice to convey each song’s specific message and emotions, and he is able to match his tone to that of the music of each piece to elicit the most dramatic and poignant effect. He also sang the songs which have become his “fan favourites,” “Maria” from West Side Story and “What Do I Need With Love” from Thoroughly Modern Millie. You will get the opportunity to hear Hughes’ outstanding rendition of “Maria” this summer when he sings the role of Tony in the National Ballet’s West Side Story Suite (June 4th-13th, 2010 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts).
Callandra Dendias then graced the stage with her sparkling eyes, million watt smile and powerhouse voice. As she discussed in our interview last week, she has a rich history and connection with Boublil and Schönberg’s musical Les Misèrables. It was apparent in her rendition of “On My Own” that Frances Ruffelle and Lea Salonga were influential in shaping her portrayal of Eponine, but she also proves effortlessly that she has all the talent, force and yearning required to hit the song out of the park just as ardently as Ruffelle and Salonga ever could. She was equally beltastic with “The Winner Takes It All” from Mamma Mia, driving intensely rich, deeply resonating notes directly to the back of the house. The most beautiful moment of the evening came when Dendias sang the sweetest, most heartfelt, genuine and pure rendition of “Poor Sweet Baby” from Snoopy dedicated to her six month old son Kaden. The audience was suddenly overcome and I saw a sea of people simultaneously wipe tears from their eyes.
Hughes and Dendias’ talents collided with absolute perfect symmetry during four duets which solidified my opinion that it would be an ideal casting choice for these two incredible performers to star alongside one another in the same show. They began with a powerful rendition of “As Long As Your Mine” from Wicked, and finished with a beautiful sweeping “Last Night of the World” from Miss Saigon. Vocally, Dendias and Hughes were at their best singing their “Karaoke classic” “Suddenly Seymour,” from Little Shop of Horrors, although Hughes made the most debonair Seymour Krelborn in the history of Skid Row. We have Dendias to thank for convincing Hughes to treat us to the chill-inducing song from his album, Martin Sexton’s “Where Did I Go Wrong,” which is always a treat to hear live. Thank you, Callandra.
Incredibly, Hughes and Dendias waited until their encore to blow the roof of the Berkeley with Queen’s “Somebody To Love.” As individuals, Michael Hughes and Callandra Dendias are both stars of the Toronto musical theatre community, but when all that vigour, joy and soul collides, these two are utterly unstoppable.
Want more Dark Nights? Check out Words and Music: Featuring: Adrian Marchuk, Marisa McIntyre, Jeigh Madjus and Toni MacRae. Monday, February 8th. The Berkeley Street Theatre Downstairs (26 Berkeley Street, Toronto) 8:00pm. $15. And Sara Farb Does Ben Folds. With guests Gabi Epstein and Steven Gallagher, with Mark Selby on the keyboard and Anton Rubisov on the drums. The Berkeley Street Theatre Downstairs. 8:00pm. $15. For tickets for both these Cabarets please call 416 368 3110 or go to actingupstage.com.