Dallas — 2016 has had its ups and downs, but Megan Hilty has had quite a year. A Tony nomination for her turn in Noises Off with the Roundabout Theater Company, a residence at New York’s Café Carlyle, a live album earlier this summer, and now an orchestra tour. We sat down with Hilty ahead of her performances with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, Sept. 9-11, to talk about her favorite songs, her experience on the hit NBC show Smash (#TeamIvy forever), and what’s coming next on stage, screen, and more.
TheaterJones: How is singing with an orchestra different than your typical Broadway run? How much more challenging is it vocally?
Megan Hilty: On Broadway you’re doing the whole show eight times a week—there is nothing harder. The symphony shows are wonderful because it’s not as hectic as a Broadway show. The tricky thing I’ve found is not over-singing. There is a lot of energy coming from behind you with an orchestra, and it’s easy to try to match that huge sound. That’s why my set lists have an ebb and flow to them so I’m not going to be shouting the whole time, and it allows the audience to enjoy the journey.
Singing with the symphony is always a little bit different, because it doesn’t make much sense to do songs that don’t utilize the symphony orchestra. But I’ve had charts made of two of the songs I regularly perform in other shows made to debut at the Dallas show. One song is “The Rainbow Connection,” which I always dedicate to my daughter. I have a very special connection with that song and the story I tell to go along with it. The other song is “The Heart of the Matter.” I’ve been told is that Don Henley lives in Dallas and may come to the show, so I hope he likes it! It’s such a great song.
What was the inspiration behind this summer’s album, Live at the Café Carlyle?
Rosemary Clooney has always been one of my favorite singers, not just because of her voice, but her storytelling while she’s singing. You actually believe that she’s going through what she’s singing about. I mean, she had a really eventful and interesting life to draw from, but she’s just so expressive.
I was working with the Cincinnati Symphony and talking with the conductor about how Clooney is from that area. I can’t remember who brought it up, but we had a shared appreciation for her and came up with the idea to do a whole symphony show of her music. Then I realized the Café Carlyle would be a perfect venue, and it would be easy to scale down to a four-piece band and still be true to the songs.
Speaking of great songs, we have to talk about Smash! You perform quite a few of the songs from the show regularly, but what are your secret favorites?
I can’t ever do any kind of concert without singing something from Smash now, I just have to. I was very fortunate to be among the first to voice Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman’s music, and I don’t take that lightly. I’m extremely grateful and sing it any chance I get.
As for favorites I don’t perform often, I love “The National Pastime” because it’s so fun, but I never sing it because it’s so strange out of context! Also “Let’s Be Bad”—I sang it at one of the Carlyle sets and it went over well, but it just goes so fast. I love “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” too, and I try to get my husband [actor/singer Brian Gallagher] to sing it with me all the time.
A lot of people say they don't write songs like they used to, but I beg to differ. Marc and Scott have the ability to write songs that sound like classics that have been around for years. It’s the craziest thing to me how they all sound so familiar while being brand new at the same time.
You worked with so many amazing people on the show. What was that like?
I thanked my lucky stars every day. The great thing is that everyone was so nice on top of being living legends, the best in their fields. Especially Bernadette Peters…I really lost my mind every time I talked to her, because her performances really inspired me to go into the business. I knew I could never be her—she’s a singular talent—but I wanted to be like her, and do interesting things, maybe hopefully inspire other people the way she did me. Plus, she is the nicest woman in show business.
No doubt you get asked all the time if you’ve got any new projects coming up, especially on Broadway. What’s next for you?
I’m working on a studio album for Christmas right now. We worked in a really great recording studio in an old barn in Connecticut called The Carriage House. We were there for several days and went in and did everything live. I’m listening to the final mixes soon, working on the artwork, and organizing a little tour between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
There is nothing on the horizon for Broadway right now, since actually my family and I are moving back to LA and buying a house. We’ll have more space for our daughter, and I can focus on my voiceover and concerts, along with a little TV work. I did a pilot that might get picked up, we’ll see! I will always come back to the city, though. When the right project comes along, I’ll be back.