Megan Hilty’s wicked talents
The Wicked and Smash star on the realities of juggling family and showbiz
It’s been three years since Megan Hilty – star of song, stage and screen – has trod the boards in Australia. Her newest show with 40-piece orchestra is a whirlwind through Broadway and the Great American Songbook, including her staples from Wicked, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Smash.
Hilty is known for her performance as the vengeful Ivy Lynn in the NBC hit series Smash. She has starred on Broadway in Wicked and 9 to 5, received a Tony nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Play for her portrayal of Brooke Ashton in Noises Off, and kids would know her familiar voice as Rosetta from the animated film series Tinkerbell.
She exploded with excitement about her upcoming trip to Australia. “Do I have to pick one thing? I love the people, I love the audiences. They are so incredibly respectful – they actually listen. They’re not on their phones. Everybody laughs and claps at the right stuff and I feel really connected to the audience.”
How do you manage to bounce around from stage to screen to family and still stay sane?
I don’t know if I’m doing a good job of maintaining sanity! I think you have to be a little crazy to be in this business. I think it boils down to my husband (actor Brian Gallagher); we are constantly trying to find that balance. He’s so wonderful and we are totally on the same page. We both get to do the things that we dreamed about while we are raising kids. I credit it all to my amazing partner.
Did you always want to have a family? Did wanting to be part of the world of Broadway ever make you doubt that would be possible?
I never wanted to get married or have children. I always told my parents that I don’t want to have kids and I don’t want to get married. Not that I don’t like marriage or kids. I just felt there was no room for that with my career. My mind changed when I met my husband – he never wanted to have kids either and then it just happened. And now I can’t imagine my life without Brian. I honestly believe that I’m a better person because of him. Without sounding weird, I keep looking at him thinking that the world needs more people like him.
Do your kids have an interest in performing too?
They do. Viola – she’s four and a half – really loves to dance, which is weird because neither Brian or I are dancers. She’s constantly putting on shows for us.
You jumped straight into the industry after graduating from Carnegie Mellon. How has your perception of the industry changed from when you first landed the standby role in Wicked to now?
The reality has become harsher and harsher. The older you get and the longer you are working, these “reality shows” make it seem like all you need is a dream and then just have someone discover you, and that’s not realistic. It’s a tough lifestyle. The business of “making it”, is one thing, but maintaining it is another. It’s the reality of having to do multiple things in order to stay alive and working. Our job is to get more jobs, my job is to continuously look for a job. And continuously dealing with rejection and heartbreak.
You’ve voiced a few animated characters like Rosetta in Tinkerbell. How does that process compare to being in front of the camera?
It’s the most fun I’ve ever had. Ever. It’s turned into my favourite thing to do. It’s something I had to work really hard to get into – it’s a really small industry. Luckily I’ve been given some chances and I feel like I’m finally in the door. I get cast as characters I would never get to play in real life. And it’s just so much fun.
You’ve sung ‘Let Me Be Your Star’ (from Smash) hundreds of times. It’s now a classic for any mezzo-soprano’s song folio. When was the point in your life when you realised you were one?
Am I? [laughs] I’m grateful that enough people know who I am to buy tickets to my concerts and keep them going. I did not want to do concerts initially. My manager asked me to put together a little concert – I said absolutely not. I have nothing to say. I planned my first concert pretty much kicking and screaming. She explained that I don’t need to impart wisdom to people; the audience just need to feel like they know me at the end of it. And I thought, “well I can do that”. Now, concerts and cartoons are my two favourites things to do.
Have you had any input on the Broadway development of Bombshell?
They keep telling me that they’re still working on it – I don’t know what the plans are. We went off the air like five or six years ago, and I’m not exaggerating, people are still so invested.
Stage or screen, what has been your favourite role to play so far?
Ivy from Smash. I got to create her. She has so many layers. She’s not all villain and I love that.
You’ve told stories about how you just missed out on playing Audrey in the 2003 Broadway revival of Little Shop of Horrors. Last year, you finally did, at the Kennedy Centre with Josh Radnor (How I Met Your Mother). What’s next on your bucket list?
My next dream role is Mrs Lovett in Sweeney Todd. But I’ve got a couple of years to live out before I play her.
Megan Hilty will be performing for one night only on Monday 17 June in the Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House.
Stacey-Louise Camilleri is a teacher, musician and theatrical reviewer. She is the owner of the theatre review blog You Should See It.