In 2020, Madalyn McHugh brought grit and grace to FST’s Goldstein Cabaret with her stunning Sarasota debut in the hit country music revue Outlaws & Angels. This spring, McHugh returned to Sarasota’s Contemporary Theatre to “make the earth move” and share more beautiful music in FST’s all-new musical revue Three Pianos.
We sat down with McHugh to learn more about her lifelong love affair with the piano and how she channels her faith to tap into the power of one of the most dynamic musical instruments.
Tell us more about your relationship with the piano. How did you two become acquainted? Would you say you have a long-term positive relationship with the piano or have you ever experienced more of a love/hate relationship with the keys?
My parents had me in piano lessons for a few years when I was a child, but it wasn’t until I resumed them in college that I started to feel confident with the keys. Now, it is more than just an instrument to me. When I sing a new song for the first time, I envision the piano in my mind to vocally grasp how far apart the intervals are in the music. It is truly the solid foundation for everything that I artistically create. It feels like a part of who I am.
Tell us more about Three Pianos. What makes this show distinct from other Cabarets you’ve performed?
Three Pianos is an absolute joy to be a part of. Usually, a Cabaret of this nature would have a variety of instruments, such as a guitar, standup bass, fiddle, or some sort of percussion. In this show, we apply different techniques of piano-playing to create a full band sound with the same singular instrument.
Three Pianos involves some complex piano “dueling.” What’s it like to perform those moments of musical interplay with your fellow cast members Nygel D. Robinson and Michael Maricondi?
Performing with Nygel and Michael is such a blast! Because they are both such accomplished musicians, we are able to take the complex sections and have fun with them. We developed a great sense of “tossing” the weight of the pieces back and forth so that we can bring each song to life and take turns with the complexity. We work very well together and are able to easily support each other on stage.
In the show, you sing Carole King’s “I Feel The Earth Move.” What’s going through your head during that number?
I love singing this number. Performing Carole King’s music invokes a real sense of strength and power as a woman and a performer. Every night, I think of the growth in my life and feel grateful for all of the progress I have made and all of the joy I’ve experienced along the way. I start strong, yet somewhat subdued, in order to grow and allow the “earth to move” throughout the song. This way, by the end of the song, I have completely exploded and “lose control down to my very soul,” as the song says.
The Three Pianos soundtrack is full of truly iconic songs. Is there a number that is your favorite to perform? What about that number makes it so special?
My favorite number to perform is “Sinnerman” by Nina Simone. My spirituality and my faith are the most important parts of me, and I truly am “crying out to the Lord,” as the song says, each time I sing that song. “Sinnerman” has such a powerful message of urging the sinner to repent and pray to the Lord as Judgement Day approaches. It’s kind of a darker moment in the show, but the song ends in hope. The sinner finds their way and proceeds with hope and clarity on the word “power.”
What do you hope FST audiences take away from Three Pianos?
I am hopeful that audiences leave with a light spirit and a smile. The music is absolutely iconic and naturally brings about so much joy. My goal with each performance is to execute the music in such a way that blesses the audience and allows them to let go of any stress they may have and exchange it for a great time!