Cabaret Royalty, Michael Griffiths, on paying homage to Kylie & Madonna
Michael Griffiths has built a reputation as modern cabaret royalty thanks, in part, by paying homage to pop icons past and present. Kylie Minogue, Annie Lennox, Madonna and Cole Porter have all got the Griffiths treatment. Sounds great, right? Well, you’re in luck: the affable Australian is in London to add a touch of sparkle to the Big Smoke.
After all, comedy might be a great way to laugh your way out of stress. But for pure escapism, cabaret really takes some beating. We caught up with a special talent – not to mention one of the nicest people in showbusiness – ahead of his upcoming London run…
YOU’VE NAILED THE ESSENCE OF THE PEOPLE YOU’VE PERFORMED AS – HOW?
What my priority has been with all of the show is to figure out what each song is about and then share what’s in the songs. So that’s the real driving force and then everything else is a bonus. I don’t do impersonation either vocally or visually, mainly because I can’t! What I can do is get into a song, into the story of it and delve into the work. All of my tribute shows come from genuine affection and are they are of all my childhood idols, people who I grew up admiring
ANNIE LENNOX IS SO SPECIAL, ISN’T SHE?
Taking a look at song lyrics like Annie’s as an adult was quite profound in terms of how deep and personal the songs are. There’s so much heartbreak, sadness, and jealousy, which is actually great for cabaret. They’re not sing-a-long pop songs, they have a deeper meaning. Walking on Broken Glass, I had no idea was a sad song until I sat down and looked at the lyrics, that it was actually about being in incredible pain.
IN TERMS OF KYLE, IT’S SUCH A FUN POP VIBE ISN’T IT?
That’s fabulous about Kylie is that in 1988 when I Should Be So Lucky came out no one knew that in 2018 that Kylie would have such credibility. We’ve all learned over the last 30 years that there’s a smart, savvy, strong, determined, tenacious person in there. The show, essentially, is feel good and there’s a real person in there. I like to think that in my hour show that we do get to acknowledge and uncover a little bit of that. My songs in the show are mashed up or medlied, there’s just so much material, that I have fun squeezing it all in.
NOW, WE LOVED NEIGHBOURS IN THE UK…
With Neighbours in Australia, we were a little embarrassed, whereas over here it was exotic. For us, it wasn’t exotic. It was painfully too familiar and suburban and real, and Kylie was just a working-class girl from the Melbourne suburbs. There was nothing exotic about it, it was just a bit cringy. Early Kylie was always a secret love but now that’s changed. Kylie proved herself and at my show, I sing all the old songs because my performances are all about nostalgia.
YOU MUST FEEL VERY PROUD TO HAVE HAD THE IMPACT YOU’VE HAD ON THE WORLD OF CABARET
I’m just thrilled to be able to do what I do and that people come along and they get it. What I do is a little bit strange, people who aren’t familiar with my work come in expecting a drag show. The fact that people do come along and take a leap of faith on my is constantly surprising and rewarding.
SURELY KYLIE WOULD BE TOUCHED BY YOUR SHOW, AS IT’S SUCH A WARM TRIBUTE
I hope so, and I think she would be because the show just celebrates her success really and, as an Australian, I acknowledge in the show that arc of success she had. She just does what feels good and she was getting cred in the early 90’s, especially after Where The Wild Roses Grow came out.
ARE THERE ANY OTHER HEROES THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO PAY TRIBUTE TO IN THE FUTURE?
I haven’t figured it out yeah but I would love to do something to honour the Pet Shop Boys. They are massive to me. If I do them it would be different, maybe a song cycle, maybe with a string quartet or something, rather than sit behind a piano. They’ve been a lifetime obsession of mine so I would love to do it at some point. They’re extraordinary and in a class of their own.
WHAT DO YOU FOR BALANCE?
The last few years I’ve been mentoring talented high school kids who, via an auditioning process, get to perform at the Adelaide Cabaret festival. It’s intensive and over a six-month period where I work really closely with 20 kids through an audition. I’ve just done my fourth or fifth year and it’s been really lovely just to be on the other side and pass on whatever I’ve learned over the past 20 years in an environment of where kids are talented and there to learn. It’s an extraordinary opportunity that certainly wasn’t there when I was a child. Each year the kids just get better and better because the word is spreading about the program, to be part of it is just fantastic.
Michael Griffiths will perform Lucky: Songs by Kylie from 30th August to 2nd September, In Vogue: Songs By Madonna on 30th & 31st August and Cole: Songs By Cole Porter on 4th and 5thSeptember at Crazy Coqs/Live at Zedel in London. Book tickets here.