It’s been three years since Broadway and television star and recording artist Megan Hilty made her Australian debut.
But after wrapping up that successful run of shows, there was no time for rest. After her headlining performance at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, Hilty had to immediately jet back to the US to attend the 2016 Tony Awards, where she was nominated for Outstanding Feature Actress in a Play for her performance as Brooke Ashton in Michael Frayn’s comedic classic Noises Off.
“It was very exciting,” Hilty tells Theatre People. “On my trip back, if anything got delayed, I was not going to be at the Tony Awards.”
Fortunately, there were no hiccups.
“I walked off the plane, I didn’t even go home because we didn’t want to get my daughter all excited and then leave her again,” she says. “So, we went to a hotel room very close to where the Tony Awards was, took a shower, put some make up on, put on a dress, and went to the Tonys … after a 24-hour trip home.”
Originally from Seattle, Hilty’s name is well known among musical theatre fans in Australia and across the globe. It was in 2004 that she began her rise to fame when she joined the Broadway company of Wicked as the standby for Glinda – a role she later assumed full time on Broadway before reprising it on the US first national tour and then in the LA production.
“I am so deeply proud to be a part of something that continuously touches people in such a huge way all over the world,” Hilty says of Wicked, which celebrated 15 years on Broadway last October. “It’s a show about friendship, it’s a show about not judging a book by its cover, and really celebrating what makes you unique. And I was always so proud to be a part of something where I knew, at the end of every show, at least one person in the audience left that theatre with a different outlook, [and] I was proud to be a part of something that inspired teens.”
Hilty has since added several stage credits to her CV, including Doralee Rhodes in the 2009 Broadway premiere of 9 to 5: The Musical (based on the 1980 film). Her performance earned her Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, Drama League and Ovation award nominations. She also starred as Lorelei Lee in a 2012 production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in New York.
It was also in 2012 that Hilty was cast as Ivy Lynn in the US musical TV series Smash. She talks about her involvement in a project that took musical theatre to a wider audience.
“Big burly guys would stop me in the street saying, ‘Hey! I never liked musicals before this, but my wife, my partner, my so-and-so made me watch your show and now I love it!’ That was always the greatest compliment. One of the greatest points of pride was helping to make musical theatre more accessible and exciting.”
Smash ran for two seasons but, in the name of charity, the cast reunited in 2015 to perform a one night only concert version of Bombshell, the fictional musical that was the focus of the show’s first season.
“That was a very unique and thrilling experience,” Hilty says. “The audience …. to say that they were excited is quite the understatement. I’ve only felt that kind of energy from an audience a couple of times.
“I don’t know if I can put it into words, but it was a really special night and I’m so glad that we got to do that.”
Hilty’s most recent projects include a concert production of Little Shop of Horrors in Washington DC, in which she performed the lead role of Audrey opposite Josh Radnor.
“It was a dream role in a dream show, and something that I’ve always wanted to do,” Hilty says. “And it was so quick! It was one of those really fast experiences – it only lasted a couple of weeks – but it was so much fun! I’m so grateful that I actually got to do it.”
Hilty is now about to return to Australia for two shows – at the Sydney Opera House on 17 June and at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre on 20 June. She remembers the experience of visiting our shores in 2016 to make her critically-acclaimed Australian debut.
“The last time I was there, I was with my band, and my husband is also in my band, and we just had the greatest time,” Hilty says. “People were so lovely, the food was amazing, the coffee was insane, and the country is just so beautiful.”
On top of that, Hilty was impressed by the audiences at her Australian shows.
“I think I saw one cell phone the entire time, because you know we can see those, right? We see everything on stage! I guess I felt connected to Australian audiences more so than I have really anywhere else because I feel like the etiquette is so great there. And I can’t tell you how much that means to someone who does live performances. So, I’m thrilled to come back and sing for the amazing audiences in Australia.”
So, what can audiences expect from Hilty’s 2019 performances in Sydney and Brisbane?
“This time is a little different because I don’t have my band with me. I’m lucky enough to sing with two symphony orchestras.”
In both cities, she will take the stage with a 40-piece orchestra and the setlist will include songs from Wicked, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Smash, as well as American pop and jazz numbers including ‘It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing’, ‘That’s life’ and ‘Autumn leaves’.
Is there any number in the show Hilty would single out as a personal favourite?
“Probably my favourite is the one that I always open with, and that’s ‘They just keep moving the line’ from Smash,” she says. “I just love that song. It’s perfectly written and so exciting to sing.”
While this will be Hilty’s second trip to the country, it will be her first time on stage at the Sydney Opera House.
“When I got the call saying that I was going to play these venues, I just couldn’t believe it. They’re iconic,” she says. “And it’s so funny, I’ve been looking up recommendations of things to do while we’re in Sydney … and at the top of every list is visit and get a tour of the Sydney Opera House.
“I can’t believe it! It feels like a dream.”
Hilty says this trip will also be different because, this time, her husband is not travelling with her.
“I’m taking my sisters and my mum, so it’s going to be a really fun, girls’ family trip,” she says. “This is going to be special to me on many levels, this whole trip to Australia. None of them have been there, so I want to really experience the country with them and make some memories. I don’t know exactly what we’re going to do yet, but I’ve been doing a lot of research and we’re going to jam a lot of stuff into the few days that I’m not working.”
Hilty has just finished filming a movie for US TV, Patsy and Loretta, telling the story of country music stars Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn.
“I play Patsy, Jessie Mueller plays Loretta Lynn, and I’m so excited to see it,” Hilty says. “I don’t look anything like myself. I’m wearing a wig that’s short and very dark. It’s quite a departure from anything else that I’ve ever done.”
She also provides voices for several animated shows for Disney, Nickelodeon, and the Cartoon Network.
When talking about what’s ahead, Hilty mentions “tons and tons of concerts.”
“These concerts and my animation work have turned into my greatest loves,” she says. “So, I’m very lucky that I get to do them all the time.”
MEGAN HILTY – SYDNEY EVENT DETAILS
When: Monday 17 June 2019
Where: Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House
Tickets on sale now at sydneyoperahouse.com
BRISBANE EVENT DETAILS
When: Thursday 20 June 2019
Where: Concert Hall, QPAC, Cultural Centre, South Bank
Tickets on sale now at qpac.com.au