INTERVIEW: Jersey Boys star Michael Griffiths and his Madonna cabaret show

Michael Griffiths is Madonna
Michael Griffiths is Madonna

Madge is looking a little different… [by James Wenley]

Michael Griffiths is Madonna
Michael Griffiths is Madonna

Michael Griffiths is a busy man. Not only is the Australian actor starring as Bob Crewe on a little show called Jersey Boys 8 times a week, but he’s also prepping for his one man cabaret show, to be performed on his one night off.

And it’s not just any Cabaret show either. The material girl herself, Madonna, is coming to Auckland! In In Vogue: Songs by Madonna, Michael Griffiths plays Madonna – but with no accent, costume or wig – just him on the piano taking us through her life and hit parade as we’ve never heard them before.

Michael expressed himself and answered my questions…

So this must be the life – you get to tour to Auckland in Jersey Boys AND put on a cabaret show on the side. Was this the plan from the start?

When Jersey Boys first announced we were coming here it was the first thing that crossed my mind and I’m always on the lookout for cabaret venues. It wasn’t until we did a couple of rehearsals in the Wintergarden (under the Civic) and I saw the grand piano hiding down there that I realised it was the perfect venue for IN VOGUE and then it was full steam ahead!

How have you been finding the Auckland Jersey Boys experience?

We’ve all been having a fantastic time. Auckland has fallen in love with JERSEY BOYS and it’s a real treat to perform for such enthusiastic audiences every night. We’re also all loving eating out around the town in all your fabulous restaurants!

What is the best thing about playing Bob Crewe?

I get all the best one-liners! Crewe runs the risk of being ‘comic relief’ or just the ‘gay guy’, but hopefully audiences quickly realise he’s actually the smartest character in the show and arguably the most powerful. I really have a lot of fun with him.

Reading up on Crewe he was a huge behind the scenes player in the Four Season’s success. Do you think he is underrated?

Crewe was often considered the ‘fifth season’ back in the day and I don’t think any of the seasons would underrate the critical part he played in their early success. I think in the context of our show his songwriting genius is perhaps a little underrated but there’ s only so much you can squeeze into 2 and a 1/2 hours at the theatre! He’s certainly a memorable character in the show.

I was a big fan of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, in which you understudied Felicia. What are some of the good memories you have of that tour?

Priscilla was a big part of my life, we became a real family and it will always be very special to me. Our season in Auckland was actually the most successful of the whole tour and the audiences here went completely nuts! I didn’t get to play Felicia nearly as much as I would have liked but it still remains one of the highlights of my career. 

So, how long have you been in love with Madonna?

Singing and dancing to ‘Holiday’ is one of my earliest memories. My interest in her has ebbed and flowed over the years but as a gay guy who grew up in the 80’s, she has been such a constant in my life. Doing this show has made me appreciate her impact on me even more; what an extraordinary career and such incredible songs!

How did you and Dean Bryant (the show’s writer/director) come to create the show?

Dean and I lived together a million years ago at drama school in Perth (WAAPA) and have been besties ever since. He’s made a real name for himself over the last few years as a writer/director of some hugely successful cabaret shows in Oz and he suggested we work on something together. I quickly cited Madonna as the perfect fodder and we took it from there. It’s since been a sellout in Adelaide, Sydney, Melbourne and New York. Neither of us can quite believe it!

The description says “Michael Griffiths IS Madonna. No accent, costume or wig.” Sounds like a very clear decision not to dress as her. Why was this important to you?

I’m a pianist and a baritone and an early concept was that I’d just sing her songs at the piano and chat about her life as a songwriter. The decision for me to actually BE Madonna came a little later down the track but it seemed the most economic way to make our point and inject a lot of humour . I’m not the least bit convincing as a woman so I just speak in my own voice, wear pants and a shirt and the audience needs to suspend their disbelief as I recount the secrets of my success and the trials of being a working mother.

What will audiences experience when they come and see the show? Do you need to be a firm Madonna fan?

Audiences can expect to hear their favourite Madonna songs like they’ve never heard them before. They can also expect to have a really good laugh (sometimes at her expense)! What keeps coming up over and over again is just how good the songs are, stripped back to piano and voice. You don’t need to be a fan because whether you like it or not, her songs really are the soundtrack of our lives.

In Vogue: Songs by Madonna plays for one night only at The Civic’s Wintergarden on Monday 11 June. More details see THE EDGE.

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