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In 1981, she originated the role of Victoria the White Cat in the London production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Cats. In 1983, Hughes starred with John Travolta in the musical film Staying Alive, a sequel to Saturday Night Fever. She played the role of Laura, an English dancer who is the romantic interest of Travolta's character Tony Manero. Hughes also appeared on the sitcom Blossom, and as the X-Men character Emma Frost in the 1996 TV movie Generation X. In 1997, Hughes starred in Aaron Spelling's short-lived primetime soap opera Pacific Palisades. She was also a frequent guest star on the television series Charmed, playing the mother of the Halliwell girls, Patricia "Patty" Halliwell. She also provided the voice of Lara, Kal-El's biological mother in Superman: The Animated Series. Another voice over role she had was Miss Robertson on an episode of Fox's animated comedy series Life with Louie.
From 1985 to 1992, she played Anna Devane on the General Hospital. Hughes won a Daytime Emmy in 1991 for Outstanding Lead Actress on General Hospital. She was nominated in the same category in 1990 for Anna, in 2000 for All My Children as Alex Devane, and, in 2002, as Anna. After establishing herself as a daytime TV star, Hughes shot a feature film cameo as a soap actress who loses an award to Sally Field in the soap opera satire film Soapdish (1991). The following year she played a leading role in the film Aspen Extreme.
It was announced in April 2006 that Hughes would be returning to GH. In May 2006 as part of the May sweeps period, three GH veterans returned. Finola Hughes was reunited with Tristan Rogers and Emma Samms. Following a rise in ratings from her sweeps return, Hughes returned to General Hospital for a limited run through August 2006. Finola returned the following year on 13 July 2007, and once again on 25 April 2008.
In September 2008, Hughes guest-starred in the General Hospital spin-off series General Hospital: Night Shift. In 2010, Finola appeared in CSI: NY, Make It or Break It and Melissa & Joey. Hughes returned to GH in early 2012 as character Anna Devane to be with her daughter, Robin.
Hughes was born in London, England. She has been married to Russell Young since 1992; and is the mother of two sons, Dylan and Cash, and one daughter, Sadie.