Annie Hughes, The GREAT and Powerful!

Dorothy lived in the midst of the great Kansas prairies, with Uncle Henry who was a farmer, and Aunt Em, who was the farmer's wife.
―The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900)

This interview took place over the phone last week.
I learned recently that there ARE angels that walk among us. One of those angels is the subject of today's blog, Annie Hughes. The first time I recall seeing Annie was at the now defunct Eighty-Eights. In the eighties, to those of us living in New York with a leaning towards cabaret, THIS was the place to be. It was OUR Cheers, a place where everybody knew your name. It was a world that I desperately wanted to be a part of!

Be careful what you wish for!  I still remember being blown away by the force of nature of Annie when she performed. I still am.For many years, Annie was very much a part of the New York cabaret scene, and then, she decided to move to Waupaca, far from the New York limelight as possible!
In 2005, Sue Matsuki called me with an idea for a show that she wanted to do for my birthday called Six Degrees of Richard Skipper. The premise was that she had met so many people through me that she wanted to bring them all together for a very special birthday celebration.
Once Sue proposed the evening to me, we made it a benefit for the Colorado Neurological Institute (CNI) on behalf of Danny's sister, Beth, who passed away after living with a brain tumor for ten years.. Guests were Scott Barbarino, Dottie Burman, Mychelle Colleary, Cynthia Crane, Joan Crowe, Bobbie Horowitz, Dana Lorge, Leslie Orfino, Ricky Ritzel and Annie flew in, as a surprise, to perform! I was blown away! Musical Director: John Bowen.

Also, when Danny and I got married, she flew in and sang at our wedding. When dealing with a personal crisis, she jumped right in to help me without my even asking her to. Recently, I saw on Facebook that Annie had FINALLY won her MAC (Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs) Award. See more about that later in this blog.
Knowing the story behind this egregious error years ago, I hope that a wrong will be righted and that Annie will be invited to finally perform this song at the MAC Awards.
For my readers who may not familiar with Annie, here is a chance to meet her and celebrate her body of "worth."

I consider Annie a great singer, but I asked her if she considers herself an actress or a singer. She responded that at this stage of her life, it is hard to pick one over the other. Back when her voice was strong and young and healthy, she felt that she was a better singer. At this point in her life, she almost feels that she is a better actress and an interpreter.
with Mark Nadler, Sue Matsuki and Dominic Meiman
 She does consider herself a "musical" actress.
I asked Annie how she prepares for different performances. I also asked if she was a "method" actress in her approach. She supposes she is a "method" actor looking to find authentic emotions from things that she has experienced. She has not played many "roles" in the last ten years or so, outside of community theatre. She played Auntie Mame several years ago, an apt role for Annie! She is that character in life.
She also loved playing Mrs. Lovett. Annie also feels there are definite character traits that criss cross. When Annie does perform outside of cabaret, it is mostly musical theatre or musical comedy.
with Daryl Kojak and Ritt Henn in Annie's home last Dec.
Annie finds the "truth" in the song lyrics from her point of view. In her cabaret singing, she doesn't pick songs that she doesn't have a strong connection to. From time to time, songs are recommended to her. when she reads the lyrics, sometimes it is the wrong time in her life to sing a sad song, or a happy or angry song. Annie tends to pick songs and material that is relative and/or relevant to who she is.
The worst job Annie ever had? Celebrity Cruise Lines! She refers to it as the "Nazi Summer Cruise from Hell!" She was having a rough time after her divorce and for the next couple of years. She wasn't doing well and she was unemployed and she received a call informing her that a friend of hers had submitted a video of her performing and they desired to have her entertaining on the ship. Annie
with Edward R. Newman
remembers someone once suggesting to her that if she ever got the opportunity to perform on a cruise ship, never EVER go on cruise status. Always try and get passenger status. So when Annie was approached, seeking passenger status was her first request. Annie was told that since the show was a "packaged show", she would be traveling cruise status. Annie said no.The woman's response was, "We really want you!We think you're terrific." She kept calling Annie. They went back and forth and Annie said, "Please give me the logistics of this." She said, "Well, you and the other girl singer will be rooming together." Annie said, No! Absolutely not!!" Annie, however, gave in and finally said yes. They started rehearsals in Seattle and the other girl singer they hired couldn't carry a tune. They fired her and hired another girl singer. She and Annie detested each other "from the jump". The two male singers had their own rooms on the ship.
as Eliza Doolittle
Because Annie's predecessors had been a married couple (guy and a girl) and therefore this cabin was now set aside for the two girl singers. In addition to the horrible living conditions, Annie had to endure the smoke machines in the show which was killing her throat. This was a six month endurance test. They would go back and forth from Bermuda to New York. The other girl once said to Annie, "It's Bermuda! How bad can this all be?" Annie responded with, "I don't care if it is Bermuda! It's Groundhog's Day!" It never got better. It just got worse. Annie was always the first one off the ship when they would dock on Saturday morning in New York City. Annie would hop in a cab, rush to her New York apartment and say, "This is real!This is reality. This is life."She couldn't take it anymore during the end of the run. She was offered something in New York and she gave Celebrity Cruise Lines notice. They told her she couldn't do this. She said, "Oh yes I will!" She gave them an ultimatum. Either they release her or she would just leave the ship and not come back. They told her that they had her passport. She really didn't give a s!@#. They did let her go but they kept her entire last paycheck.

This was about $1400.00. They gave her a small check upon departure. She was so happy she couldn't stand it. The following weekend, which was their last weekend in New York Harbor. They were about to do a "turn around cruise", which meant they were going back and forth to Puerto Rico and then on to Bermuda. Annie went down to the pier. All of the guards knew her. "Hey, Annie!", they were all shouting. She stood on the dock and looked at her former cast mates and did a happy dance while shouting "Woo hoo! Enjoy yourself! See ya! I'm so glad I'm not going to be ya anymore!" It was horrible! They couldn't do anything because they were doing "boat drill" and they were not allowed to speak.KT Sullivan has recommended Annie for a cruise since then.
with KT Sullivan and KT's husband, Stephen Downey
Annie said to her, "Nooooo!" It was supposed to be KT's gig but she wasn't available. She tried to convince Annie that it was going to be fine. Annie believes that she wouldn't have a career if it wasn't for KT. She would send Annie work all the time. When Annie got the job in A...My Name Is Still Alice off Broadway, it came because of a recommendation from KT.
Annie did one more cruise. It was a two week music cruise to Europe on the SS Norway, a HUGE cruise ship. It was beautiful, magnificent, and like a floating city. Very few people, all musicians, and they were not only passenger status, but first class passenger status. Daryl Kojak and his wife Kate were with Annie and they had a ball. However, Annie never desires to go on a ship again.
I asked Annie to tellsomething about her that would surprise others. She responded, "I'm a lovely human being!" No surprise here. I already know that.

with Julie Wilson
What words of advice does Annie offer for aspiring entertainers? If it is not a hobby and you're going to seriously consider pursuing it as a career, ONLY do it if you ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY HAVE TO! What she means by that is, YOU HAVE TO DO IT! You don't go to school thinking, "Well, I'll take a course in being a maintenance worker just to have something to fall back on."
You can't have a fall back plan. You can't have a "next". You have to be up on the high wire without a net. You have to be committed and make it happen. If you are not one hundred percent committed, then it is best to do it as a hobby and find something else to pursue as a career.
I asked Annie to finish this sentence, "I'll never understand why..."Annie's response: Republicans!
If Annie could change one thing about the profession, it would be the fact that some people feel the need to put down others who's main purpose is to build people up.
What are Annie's pre-show or post show rituals? It used to be that if she ate anything the day of a show, it would be early in the afternoon. Normally, she would not "have time", or she would be so psyched up that she wasn't up to eating. For the last few years, Annie has given concerts in her home. She has a local chef come in and cater them and the food is complementary to the music which is pretty spectacular, Annie has to say, with Daryl Kojak and Ritt Henn. They are so  great. If Annie doesn't eat before the concert, the food is all gone. In those cases, she will have a little food before she sings.
What was the first album that Annie ever owned? It was the soundtrack of Camelot and Color Me Barbra. Color Me Barbra came out in 1966. Camelot's soundtrack came out in 1967. Annie knew every single song on the Color Me Barbra album and would sing them from start to finish.
Must See TV for Annie? Buffy, The Vampire Slayer
Music that makes Annie cry: Church music...She was raised Catholic so if she is in a church, and they are doing music, the whole experience makes her so sad she can't bear it.
with Jim Luzar
She doesn't mean that in a good way.
Annie's opinion of "show business" evolved her right out of New York City and on to the Midwest. For Annie, cabaret and theatre run pretty much parallel. As far as theatre is concerned, Annie thinks that it is a shame that they keep rewriting musicals to be more politically correct for today instead of  looking at them as "period pieces". If there is a word that is used in a musical that is a "no no" today, it was cogent then. It was part of that era. By rewriting those things, Annie believes that we lose history and there's a lot of history to be gleaned from musicals dating back to the very beginning. This also includes Opera companies. Annie knows of opera companies who will update the lyrics to "sort of say" what the original composers said in a different language.
Three things that Annie cannot live without are her dogs, her boyfriend, and her wine!
Lyrics and Lyricists
March is coming up and it is Cabaret Month in New York.  I can't think of a better time than now to bring this up.
Back in 1989/90, Annie's FUTURE former husband were discussing special material for Annie, something she wanted to do and something THEY could put together. Dear Mr. Sondheim is what they came up with.
They went back and forth with what musical phrases to use and what phrases Annie really liked and which phrases she really desired to use, what she wanted to say, and how everything should go. It was a real collaboration. "More so than our actual marriage was." In 1991, Annie was nominated for female vocalist of the year. Dear Mr Sondheim was nominated as Special Material.
Annie's favorite audience!
Before they went to the Awards that night, he pretty much "whined and stomped his little feet, saying 'You're female vocalist!Let me have this!I need to be nominated for this.'" Annie got tired of fighting with him and said, "Fine!" Although Annie performed that year, she was told that she couldn't sing Dear Mr. Sondheim because that wouldn't be fair to the other special material nominees.
Annie ended up singing Glitter and Be Gay and he accompanied her.They then went back into the audience and Dear, Mr. Sondheim won for special material.He went up and accepted the award by himself. Then, of course, the category of female vocalist remained to the end and Annie didn't win. That was finer because the "competition" was tough that year.
The marriage disintegrated and years later, Annie found out that he had copyrighted the piece without her name on it. Also, somewhere around the time that she moved to Wisconsin, about 2006/7, Annie received a call from the guy that was directing the MAC Awards that year. His idea was to have MAC Award winning entertainers perform MAC award special material and would she be willing to come in to New York and perform Dear, Mr. Sondheim? Of course, she was thrilled. She didn't care what it cost. She was going to fly out and get a hotel room. This was a big honor for Annie. It was HUGE! A couple of days later, the director called her back and said, "By the way, Annie, have you actually ever won a MAC Award?" Annie said, "Well, I co-wrote Dear, Mr. Sondheim. We won.Right?" He said, "No." Annie's former husband was the only one listed. "And since you never won for female vocalist, I'm sorry, but we can't have you perform.
How about you just send me the music and we will have another performer perform it. Annie admits to having a bit of a stroke! She said, "No." I, for one respect an artist's possession of special material. We spend money and time on arrangements and charts. There are certain things that we perfect and write until we are ready to "release" it, We are the ones performing it. That is what makes it special, because we create something of our own, and we are possessive of it. Once again, Annie told him "No" and that if she found out that it had been acquired through "other sources" that she would not be happy about it. As far as Annie knows, the piece was not used! There are only two possible places in which he could get lead sheets for it.
After Annie's October 2014 return to Don't Tell Mama for one night only (pictured left to right: Ruby Rims, John Hoglund, Marcus Simeone, Sue Matsuki, Annie, Peggy Eason, ME, Daryl Kojak. Rochelle Seldon)
Annie let it go but began working diligently to getting the copyright. Finally, a few months ago, after working with the Library of Congress copyright office after a loonnnggg time, in which they did a full investigation, which took a couple of months, she NOW has HER CREDIT for copyright for contributing to Dear, Mr. Sondheim.
Once she got that documentation, she sent it to a friend who sits on the board of MAC.She had proof and validation that she co-wrote this piece. She wanted it to be submitted to finally receive her credit for co-writing.
It came through! In addition to getting the copyright, she is now OFFICIALLY a MAC Award winner!
with Erv Raible
She is extremely proud and honored by that.
Annie has been living in Wisconsin for eleven years now. She does come back, as I've pointed out, occasionally. She has been fortunate on those occasions to have the opportunity to sing while she is here and see people that she loves. When she was here in October, it was for a memorial for Annie's beloved Erv Raible, who was a really dear friend.
Since Annie's move to Wisconsin, they spoke at least once a month. He was one of the few people that she could REALLY talk to on the phone. She planned on doing a show on her own at the same time that she was going to be in New York before she found out that she needed surgery on her cervical spine.
The fact is that she came back and was received so warmly by the community and that she had a packed house for her one night only concert in which she had no idea what was going to come out of her mouth, because there is a titanium plate behind her larynx! She practiced and practiced. She didn't like anything. She didn't like the way she sounded. She was terrified, but she thought, "Just go for it!" She was thinking that this could be the last time she does this.
She stood up on that stage and the audience, of which I was a part of, was radiating support and affection. She started to sing and she could not believe what came out.That had to do a lot with the support of our cabaret COMMUNITY in New York who had not forgotten her, who were generous enough to go and support her. Annie desires to make sure that all those people who are so good to her and are so supportive of her realizes how much it means to her. 
That moment to perform at least one more time on the beloved stage of Don't Tell Mama in her beloved city of New York was transcendent to her. It was an excellent year for that. All of it came together.
As much as Annie is "retired" from the cabaret community, she cannot NOT do it. When she went to see the doctor about her issue with her cervical spine and he said, "This has to happen immediately or you're going to end up in a wheelchair", that was horrifying. Then he described the procedure, "We're going to go into your throat right here", and he put his finger on her throat and pressed against her larynx, and Annie burst into tears.
The last few years in New York, and the culmination of Annie's move to Wisconsin, there have been many times when Annie thought, "What would be the big deal if I never sang again?"
Annie's parents, Jane and Norm, who supported her in EVERYTHING she ever did.
She felt that nobody really cared. She had a big "pity party" in that respect. The moment she was faced with not having a choice, with a real possibility that she might not end up in a wheelchair, but she may never sing again, because they go in the way they do. They could kill nerves. Look at Julie Andrews. The thought that that would be taken away from Annie and she would have no say about that just shifted everything for her. She does everything she does and she sings because she HAS to.
Annie just filmed a commercial for her therapist and their tagline is, "We have your back." Annie's greatest joy in life is that she doesn't have to have a day job. Secondly, that she can help others.
She has the wherewithal to help.
I, for one, would LOVE for the MAC board to consider having Annie back NEXT YEAR as they celebrate their thirtieth anniversary! God knows she's earned it!
Thank to ALL mentioned in this blog for the gifts you have given to the world and continue to give!
With grateful XOXOXs ,

Check out my site celebrating the legacy of Jerry Herman's Hello, Dolly!


Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!    

Thank you, to all the mentioned in this blog!

Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!

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  1. Thank you, Richard, for doing this wonderful pieced on our beloved Annie!


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