Megan Hilty Comes to Boston (With a Little Help from Seth Rudetsky)
"Behind the brass is a silk-and-lace lining," is the way New York Times critic Stephen Holden described Megan Hilty earlier this spring when she appeared at the Café Carlyle. And it is an apt description of the curvaceous blonde singer/actress, best known to audiences from her role of Ivy Lynne in the cult television hit "Smash."
That show - a fictionalized behind-the-scenes look at the makings of a Broadway musical - ran two seasons on NBC. It was unique in the way it integrated musical theater elements, from rehearsal numbers to character songs, into its soap operatic storyline. You either loved it or hated it, or loved it and hated it. It was, nonetheless, must-see television for musical theater fans.
It made a star of Hilty, a rising Broadway talent who had previously played Glinda in "Wicked" (following Kristen Chenoweth) and the Dolly Parton role in the musical version of "9 to 5." On "Smash" she played one of the two actresses vying for the role of Marilyn Monroe in a fictional musical called "Bombshell" (the other actress was played by Katherine McPhee.) Her Ivy was a complicated type - super-talented and ambitious, but not confident enough to deal with the intense backstage competition.
In real life, Hilty is, happily, not like the moody Ivy. Her warmth and giggly charm comes across over the telephone recently when she talked to EDGE in anticipation of her upcoming benefit concert produced by Boston Gay Men's Chorus and Ptown impresario Mark Cortale on Friday, September 18 at the Shubert Theatre.
Nor has she been sitting still since "Smash" ended. She has had a supporting role on Sean Hayes recent sit-com; released a CD of pop songs called "It Happens All The Time;" received rave reviews for playing Lorelei Lee in a concert version of "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" as part of the Encores series (in the process bringing to mind the two actresses, Carol Channing and Marilyn Monroe, who played the role previously); and toured the country extensively in concert performances. She also married actor/musician Brian Gallagher two years ago and gave birth a year ago to their first child, Viola Philomena.
More recently she took a recurring role on the upcoming television series "Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce," that comes to BravoTV later this year; and is shooting a pilot for a new TVLand show called "I Shudder," described as a dark comedy. She also returns to Broadway in November as part of the ensemble in a revival of the now classic comedy "Noises Off" at the Roundabout Theatre Company with Andrea Martin and Campbell Scott. Before that she returns to Encores for the coveted role of Annie Oakley in "Annie Get Your Gun," playing another role made famous by another Broadway superstar, Ethel Merman.
But it is her appearance at the Shubert this Friday that has her attention. It is not a conventional concert, rather something of a conversation with songs that she will have with her accompanist and good friend Seth Rudetsky. It brings the concept that Rudetsky has developed in New York and in Provincetown in recent summers to Boston for the first time, one that is smart, informed, informal and a lot of fun. It is hard to imagine it won't be with these two performers on the stage.
EDGE spoke to Hilty about the event (amongst other topics):
EDGE: What will you be doing on Friday night at the Shubert?
Megan Hilty: I am doing a show with Seth Rudetsky. His format is actually very interesting. It's more of an interview. I have about 15 songs ready to go and we sit down and have an interview, then he picks which songs we are going to do according to where the conversation goes. It's great because I think it's the best way to get to know somebody. I am not planning what I am saying about any songs I do and what they mean to me. In a way it's much more intimate than a normal show is going to be.
EDGE: What makes Seth such a good collaborator?
Megan Hilty: Seth is one of the best people that I know. I really enjoy working with him because he loves artists. You can really tell that from all the shows that he does, from all the interviews that he does, he just wants to show the best parts of people. These shows are always very special for me.
EDGE: Yes, but does he ever throw you a curveball question?
Megan Hilty: Oh yeah. He has. A couple of times he tries to get me in trouble with people he knows that are in the audience and I call him out on it. But we have that kind of relationship. It's great. And he does ask me questions that make me think and be present in the moment. There is nothing that we can't talk about in the show.
EDGE: Is that a challenge?
Megan Hilty: Yes, but there's something really freeing about it. I always... Not that the other shows aren't about having a good time, but I always have a great time with Seth. We have such rapport.
EDGE: Two years ago you released a pop album called 'It Happens All The Time.' Are you going to be performing anything from that on Friday?
Megan Hilty: I hope so. We don't know what we are going to do. I do have 'Heart of the Matter' ready to go and it is one of my favorite songs from the album, so I hope we do that.
EDGE: Is singing pop very different than singing musical theater?
Megan Hilty: It's really a different style of singing. I was really out of my comfort zone when we started working on it. I was at first apprehensive about it, but thought I would never get this opportunity again. It's a very different technique and harder for me to do than anything else because I am not just use to doing it.
EDGE: You originally were thinking of being a legit soprano and went to opera camp. Why did you switch to musical theater?
Megan Hilty: It just seemed that musical theater was a better fit for me personality-wise. And at opera camp they told me that women don't generally start working when they're 30 because that's when their voices mature. And at the time I thought, 'I don't want to wait until I am 30. I want to start working now.' But I still have a deep appreciation for the classical world and have secret dreams of singing in an opera right now, even though you have to train all your life to do it.
EDGE: You gave birth to your first child, a girl you named Viola Philomena. What has motherhood been like for you?
Megan Hilty: No one could have ever prepared me for it. A lot less sleep than I thought I would ever get, and I am use to a lot less sleep as it is. It was hard and wonderful. I learned a lot about myself and family. Everything has changed. It's really hard for me to put into words as you can see, I am stumbling all over the place. But it has been the hardest and most wonderful thing that has ever happened to me.
EDGE: Is it hard to balance being a parent and your career?
Megan Hilty: I kind of hate to say this, but it is easier than I thought it was going to be. But that could be because I have the greatest partner (actor/singer Brian Gallagher) in the whole world. My husband is so wonderful with her. And if I am not doing something, I can be there for the baby; if he's doing something, I can be there. She travels with us everywhere. We've been making it work. I am very lucky to have a great partner to figure this out with. And it is Viola Philomena first birthday on September 18, the night of the concert. So I am dragging everyone with me so I don't have to spend her first birthday away from her. Hopefully she'll be fast asleep when I am doing the concert.
EDGE: You recently were cast in 'Noises Off'...
Megan Hilty: I am so excited. Not only do I get to be on stage again, but I get to play in one of the funniest shows ever written. I have never done a professional play before, so I don't know if I will miss singing. I will be doing concerts, so I will be singing all the time. It will be nice not to worry about my voice every day.
EDGE: But before that you are doing 'Annie Get Your Gun?'
Megan Hilty: I am so excited about that. For Encores. You know, it seems I keep saying that I am so excited about everything, but I have a lot of great projects coming up.
EDGE: You have played roles made famous by Dolly Parton, Marilyn Monroe and Carol Channing. Now you are taking on an a famous Ethel Merman role. What is it like to follow in their footsteps?
Megan Hilty: At this point I have made a career of stepping into roles that other people have made iconic, so a long time ago I came to terms with the fact I will never measure up to the people that have done it before me so I just have to be okay with what I bring to the table.
EDGE: You also just signed to be part of a new television show on Bravo?
Megan Hilty: It's called 'Girlfriends' Guide to Divorce.' They film it in Vancouver. It couldn't be further away. And they have been very good about it by letting me shoot all my stuff together so I can get in and out really quickly. I play the new wife to one of the main character's ex-husbands. I play a rich Southern lady that comes in and cause all kinds of problems, so I get to be real bitchy with a smile.
EDGE: You are also doing a pilot of a show called 'I Shudder?'
Megan Hilty: It's a pilot for TVLand. It's a dark comedy that we shoot in October. The script is so cool. I get to play another awful person. I play awful people on television and really nice people on stage.
EDGE: You didn't think Ivy (on 'Smash') wasn't nice?
Megan Hilty: I loved Ivy. It's just that she was complicated. She made questionable choices.
EDGE: Speaking of 'Smash,' in June you took part in that benefit concert that presented 'Bombshell,' the musical about Marilyn Monroe that was part of the show. What was that experience like?
Megan Hilty: It was insane the reception we got for that concert. And it sparked all kinds of things for the future. It looks like there might be a 'Bombshell' musical, we may do more concerts like that. Who knows. I am just glad that that music will get a life after 'Smash.' It was such great music and I am so happy they are doing something with it.
EDGE: Would you like to be part of it if it went to Broadway?
Megan Hilty: It would be wonderful. It is so hard to answer that question because every time someone asks me that and I say, 'Yes. I would love to. Maybe they are doing an audition,' it turns into a headline: 'Megan Hilty is vying for the role.' It's like step back a moment. But I would love to work with them again.
EDGE: Does it seem like 'Smash' has gotten bigger since it went off the air?
Megan Hilty: Definitely. All the time people ask me about the show. The show has grown so much since we went off the air. That's part of the reason we did the concert in the first place because all these new fans have found it on line and binged watched it. People talk to me more now than when it was on the air.
EDGE: What advice would you give someone hoping to break into the theater?
Megan Hilty: When people ask me for advice about young performers about how to make it in the business, I answer that there isn't just one way to do it. What I usually say is that if you want to be in this business you have to ask yourself why. And have a clear understanding of why you want to be in this business otherwise you will never make it and be heartbroken. It is just so hard. And part of that is doing every possible job you can think of besides being an actor, like taking tickets, cleaning up the theater after everyone is gone, building the sets, just to know you understand that you are a small piece in a really big puzzle even though the focus is on you. And it is growing up in the theater and having a real passion for it.
I think that's such a big part of it. I really love what I do and I am so happy that people still ask me to perform.
Megan Hilty appears on Friday, September 18 at the Shubert Theatre, 265 Tremont Street, Boston, MA. For ticket information visit the CitiCenter website or //bgmc.org/music/2015-2016/broadway-shubert:visit the Boston Gay Men's Chorus website for more information.
Watch Megan HIlty perform "They Just Keep Moving The Line" from the "Bombshell" concert this past June:
Watch Megan Hilty sing "Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend" from "Gentleman Prefer Blondes":