“My parents were very musical, so it was natural when we were kids to sing together all the time,” says second eldest son Jason, 42. The family performed at church functions and small events around their hometown of Taylorsville, Utah.
“My mom always had a way of making whatever it was sound like the biggest deal that was ever going to happen to us,” says Jason. By the time the youngest brother, Adam, was two years old, and the eldest, Marty, was 12, they had begun performing as The Hughes Brothers.
The boys grew up dreaming of making a living in the music business, each of them focusing on music and theater while in school. Between the five of them, they’ve starred in more than 50 different musicals. The big break for the Hughes brothers came in 1994 when they won a national vocal competition. Part of the prize was recording an album in Nashville.
On the way home from Nashville, they stopped in Branson, Missouri, and auditioned for a summer gig at Silver Dollar City Theme Park. They liked Branson so much that, when they got the gig for the following summer, the entire family packed up and moved to Branson permanently.
As Branson blossomed to become the music destination it is today, the Hughes family and its show grew as well, adding family members. “We were invited to do a Christmas show in one of the Branson theaters; we had a good amount of Christmas material, but we had never done a two-hour show,” says Jason. “That’s when we decided to add Marty’s wife and my wife; we were the only two who were married at the time. It sort of grew after that.”
Ever Growing Show
Today, all five brothers are married and all of their wives—Cindy (Marty), Mara (Jason), Vikki (Adam), Carina (Ryan), and Becky (Andy)—perform in the show, along with their 34 children (and counting), plus four additional siblings—David, Sophia, Sarah, and Maria, that Lena and Gary adopted from Russia in 2003.
“Kristina actually walked up on the stage and joined the act in her knickers, dancing,” says Marty of his oldest daughter, who sings and plays violin in the latest version of the family show called “It.”
“We didn’t start out thinking it would be like this. I don’t think anyone sane would have thought this up,” says Jason, referring to what has become a show involving more than 50 performers altogether. The show is an amazing production that appears to be seamlessly choreographed.
The family is quick to point out that this is really not the case. Especially because the show involves many children and numerous set and costume changes, anything could happen on any given night. One time Jason’s microphone stand flew off into the audience, and there have been numerous wardrobe malfunctions. But the family takes it all in stride laughing about it afterwards.
They say they’ve had to learn to look past their faults and differences and forgive each other, a lot; after all, family members aren’t going away.
Then there are the logistic issues—getting everyone together for rehearsals and shows, and the challenges faced by any growing family. “The kids are continually growing and outgrowing their costumes,” says Marty, 45.
“We never know which wife is going to be pregnant,” adds Jason, and then the kids also need time to just be kids.
“There are people in the audience who worry when they are at the show and they see these kids in the show after 10:00 p.m. at night,” says Jason. “We homeschool the kids. And though by the time we get home and get them all in bed it’s 11:00 p.m. or 11:30 p.m. at night, they sleep in the morning until they get up.”
The kids are always able to pursue other interests, and may even choose on occasion not to participate. Marty’s daughter Kristina, now 20, is the oldest of the brothers’ kids. “They had me singing on stage at two-and-a-half because I had really good diction and pitch,” she says, explaining that she’s always loved performing.
“I love it when I can play something meaningful, when audience members come up after the show to say that they really appreciate the talent, but also the meaning of what we are trying to share,” she says.
When asked if she thinks it is genetics or exposure that makes all the kids so talented, she explains it like this: “I think you have to have some exposure to music to understand it and feel it and to be able to play music. We were around it before we were even born. There are some babies that their moms were dancing around on stage when they were pregnant, for a little while anyway. The kids are hearing music the whole time they grow up.”
Many of the children play instruments, often starting on violin; they are free to follow their interests. “But they have to be committed to what they are doing as well,” adds Kristina, who plays violin, guitar, and piano.
“Jacob [Marty’s son] plays guitar, violin, bass, and drums,” says Ryan, 38. He’s really good on guitar and drums. He’s totally into it.”
Although, none of the five brothers ever seriously considered leaving the group, they each have their individual interests and roles within the show, which is 100% family produced. The eldest, Marty, is in charge of sound for the show and also has arranged much of the music. He has his own sound studio and does recording, engineering, and arranging for other groups as well.
Jason is director and choreographer for the show, while second youngest Ryan does accounting and book work with his mother. Though known for being a quiet guy, Ryan is the most comedic on stage and is known for his vocal versatility and impressions.
The middle sibling, Adam, 40, is a graphic artist, who does all the design work in the advertising for “It,” as well as taking on other projects around Branson. He’s also studied film, and is in charge of video and lighting. He has a passion for Spanish classical guitar, and also plays banjo and mandolin. Baby brother and stage and facilities manager Andy, 34, says he sings all the high parts.
Their sister Sarah, 22, is box office manager, Maria, 19, is the gift shop manager, and Sophia, 23, is concessions manager. Little brother David, 19, handles the lights. Their father, Gary Hughes, helps out wherever he’s needed.
Lena, says that one of the biggest challenges the family has faced so far was purchasing of their own theater. A last minute glitch in the paperwork almost prevented them from moving forward, but through her persistence in securing financing, and maybe a little divine providence, they pulled it off.
Today the Hughes family performs the show “It” about eight times per week, year round. They have earned numerous awards—Branson’s Best Vocal Group, Branson’s Best Variety Show, Branson’s Best Show (2011), Branson Entertainers of the Year (2012), and Branson’s Best Christmas Show for the past four years.