Ahead of his THREE upcoming shows in London.
Being a cabaret star with three upcoming solo shows in London full to the brim of creative ideas must make for a very busy life, but it doesn’t seem to bother Michael Griffiths. In fact, he’s currently thinking up at least three more ideas for shows to add to his already impressive resume.
Named Best Cabaret Performer at the 2016 Helpmann Awards for his Cole Porter one-man tribute show, Griffiths is also the face and talent behind In Vogue: Songs by Madonna, Sweet Dreams: Songs by Annie Lennox, and Lucky: Songs by Kylie Minogue. In case you hadn’t figured, he’s very much a music super fan.
From 30th August to 5th September, Michael will be bringing his Cole Porter, Madonna, and Kylie Minogue shows to London (get your tickets here, folks) in what will be a busy few days for the performer. We caught up with him as he gears up for the tour to talk about the thought processes and inspiration behind each shows, his most iconic moments of his favourite superstars, and what happened when he bumped into one Dannii Minogue.
Hey Michael! So you’re bringing three whole shows to London later this month, each as a tribute to three of your favourite artists: Kylie Minogue, Madonna, and Cole Porter. How did the idea behind each of the shows come about?
Madonna came first. My best friend Dean Bryant is a writer and director and already had some considerable success with a cabaret show exploring Britney Spears. Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber even saw it in London! When Dean suggested to me we create a show together, Madonna was the obvious choice. We’re both gay men in our 40s and she’s an artist who is part of the fabric of our lives. She’s also never given the proper credit she deserves for being a kick-ass songwriter and my show is about honouring those songs and letting them stand for themselves, stripped back at the piano.
I followed that with an Annie Lennox tribute that I performed in London last year. Cole Porter is a quite a change of pace, his songs are exquisite and I use them to tell his extraordinary life story of romance and misfortune. And every song is a winner.
Finally, Kylie is the latest show and tells her life story starting out on Neighbours through to her rebirth as a disco diva, unashamedly favouring all the early ‘Hit Factory’ songs – they’re so fun!
As you’re performing all shows one after another, have you ever found yourself getting ready to belt out the chorus of ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’ before realising you’re actually halfway through your Madonna show?
I’m doing Kylie and Madonna on the same night (and you can see them as a ‘double bill’ if you like). Both shows have such a strong narrative that once they take off, I never get the shows confused – they all have quite a different flavour. I’ve been doing the Madonna show since 2011 and it’s a bit like riding a bike. Having said that, I do have the occasional ‘brain fart’ but audiences love it when things go a little bit wrong. As long as we can all have a giggle about it together.
How was the process for you in finding a connection between each of the songs in order to create a narrative that flowed through the show?
I worked with Dean Bryant on both Kylie and Madonna, we’ve been best mates since being roommates at drama school in the late 90s. In both shows it was about choosing songs that explored certain themes or events in the artist’s lives that made for a good story.
We take the occasional moment of ‘artistic license’ but have great affection for both women and both shows are really about celebrating their achievements. For instance, we place ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’ after the world lost Michael Hutchence from INXS. Of course, that song wasn’t actually written about him, but the lyrics come alive when placed in an unexpected context. Same with Madonna, we use the little known ‘Cry Baby’ from ‘I’m Breathless’ and make it about Guy Ritchie – it always gets a massive laugh. And of course you need to finish with a winner and both shows end with absolute corkers. Some of the best pop songs ever written, and gay anthems to boot.
Were there any particular songs that you really wanted to include but couldn’t find a way to fit them into the show?
All three artists have such a massive body of work that there were always going to be some songs lost along the way. Kylie and Madonna both have a strong emphasis on the early work because of the power of nostalgia, especially with pop music. I adore ‘Live To Tell’, it’s one of my favourites but we just couldn’t fit it in – as it stands, there’s almost 30 Madonna songs crammed into the hour show!
With Kylie, I adore ‘Confide In Me’ and it’s one of my favourites but we just couldn’t find the right moment for it. My Cole Porter tribute is missing ‘I Get A Kick Out Of You’ but again, there are just too many songs to fit in an hour. A reviewer in Edinburgh nailed it a couple of years back when he said Porter’s catalogue is ‘an embarrassment of riches’. ‘Night and Day’, ‘Anything Goes’, ‘Let’s Do It’, ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’…the list goes on. With all three shows, it was about finding the right balance between the songs you’ve come to hear, along with a few unexpected surprises thrown in.
Madonna recently celebrated her 60th birthday. What’s your most iconic Madonna moment?
I saw ‘The Girlie Show’ in Adelaide in 1993 and it was the most exciting thing that had happened to me up until that moment. Her songs have been the soundtrack to my life. Performing ‘In Vogue’ in New York two years ago at 54 Below near her old stomping ground was one of the most special nights of my life.
And what did you make of Kylie Minogue’s latest album ‘Golden’?
I love it. It’s sincere and heartfelt and is a testament to her artistry. Admittedly, I don’t sing anything off that album in my show, mainly because we wrote the show before ‘Golden’ was released! It is on high rotation on my iPhone though and her voice is better than ever. I LOVE ‘A Lifetime To Repair’. I must confess that I’m hoping there’s still another disco album to come!
Can we expect to see any glittered-up cowboy boots in ‘Lucky’ to go with Kylie’s recent barn-storming style?
Unfortunately no. I do perform the show in character as ‘Kylie’ but without any drag or impersonation. So there’s no dressing up, the audience just needs to take a leap of faith the I’m the Princess of Pop and we proceed. It’s camp and it’s a lovely device to get under her skin and treat her as a real person, rather than a pop star on a pedestal. It’s done with great love and affection.
Why do you feel cabaret is such a crowd-pleasing performance style?
For me, cabaret is all about intimacy and simplicity. There are no sets, costume changes or tap dancing chorus numbers to dazzle the crowd with. It’s all about connecting sincerely with an audience and leading them through a story with songs and humour. It’s also about exploring themes that we all relate to; love, family, ambition, success, disappointment. Suddenly I sound like they’re really serious – mostly they’re camp as hell and a lot of fun!
In the highly-possible scenario where you find yourself stuck in a lift with Kylie, Madonna, and Cole, what would you love to ask each of them?
Funny you should ask that because it happened just last week. Cole was giving Madonna some tips on writing internal rhymes and Madonna was giving Kylie sachet samples from her new MDNA skincare range. I stood there dumbfounded and didn’t know what to say. Just kidding, what would would probably happen is what happened when I met Dannii a few years back, I shook her hand and meant to say ‘lovely to meet you’ but all that came out of my mouth was ‘I love you’. I was completely starstruck.
Are there any modern day pop stars who you feel would be worthy of their own cabaret-style show in a few years’ time?
I’m too old to take much notice of pop these days. I remember a few years back thinking Rihanna has a bunch of killer tunes. I’m also a massive fan of Robyn. I feel like I may may have done my dash with bio cabarets for the time being. I’m still having a ball performing them but might take a break from creating new work.
I am a massive Pet Shop Boys fan however and one day I’ll do something to honour them. Perhaps a song cycle with a piano string quartet? Something suitably high-brow!