We talk to Megan Hilty, Adelaide Cabaret Festival headliner
Eddie Perfect and Ali McGregor have announced the programming for their first Adelaide Cabaret Festival, and amongst the stars in the line-up is Megan Hilty, direct from Broadway.
Perhaps best known in Australia for playing the role of bombshell Ivy in the backstage musical drama Smash, Megan has starred in Wicked, 9 to 5, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and most recently, the Broadway revival of Noises Off. She’s a musical comedy ingenue, with sharp timing and a clear, irresistible voice.
Last week, I called Megan in New York to talk to her about her cabaret festival show, the music that speaks to her heart, Bernadette Peters, and more.
I am so excited that you’re coming down here for the Ad Cab Festival!
“Oh my goodness, we have been looking forward to this so long! We have been trying to make this happen for a couple years now, and I can’t believe this is actually finally happening.”
What kind of show are you bringing over?
“It is musical theater! It is songs from musicals that I have done, musicals I want to do, some things from Smash and just some classics.”
Talking about classics… what are the kind of classics that have inspired you and your song list?
“Right now… I am actually doing a concert in April, mostly Rosemary Clooney songs, the songs that she covered. I mean everybody knows the songs that she did. She picked such amazing songs to record and so that is what I have been really into lately. But in the show, I’ll be doing things from Wicked and 9 to 5, Gentleman Prefer Blondes and stuff like that.”
You do have a bit of an international fan base, and definitely one locally in Australia, because of things like Wicked and Smash – people have been watching you from afar. How have you found having this international following from people who may not have even seen you perform live?
“It has been amazing. There have been a lot of Australian people coming to our concerts at the Carlyle and at Bombshell [the live staging of Smash’s musical-within-a-musical] there were a lot of people from Australia there too. And all of them were telling us how big Smash is there which is so exciting! I am so excited to get to do all of these songs from Smash for a live audience.”
It had a real cult following here. There was a lot of sadness when it ended —
“I know! Me too!”
The show had elements of such high drama, and you do a lot of comedic roles as well. Do you have some preference of the doing the dramatic thing or are you really drawn to comedy?
“You know, that is kind of a hard question to answer because that kind of implies that I have a little bit of…”
But no one never really does.
“[Laughs] Yeah. When Smash came up it was during pilot season in Los Angeles. I just thought it was way too good to be true. I thought I was lucky enough to just get an audition for it, let alone land a TV show basically about my life. I mean, not my character! My character is not anywhere close to what I’m like! But it was really interesting to me to play a character who says things that I wouldn’t dream of doing or saying. That is very attractive to play.”
There’s an interesting contrast to doing something like a solo show or a cabaret concert where it is really sort of just you, and there’s no character to dictate what you’re doing or saying or how you’re feeling, like there have been in your roles in musicals or on TV…
“Absolutely! And the idea of doing a show like this… My manager had to really convince me to do these concerts, because this sounded terrifying. I didn’t want to stand up and tell all about my childhood and what these songs meant to growing up… like that just didn’t sound appealing to me at all. It didn’t seem like me. I love going to see those shows, but it was terrifying.
My manager said “You know what? You just need people to leave your show feeling like they got to know you.” And that was the key for me. We try to make these concerts feel like… when you leave, you feel like you have just spent an hour and half in our living room. My husband is part of the band, and he has a live microphone the whole time, and he’ll make fun of me and chime in few times, saying something weird. And with Matt [Cusson], our Music Director who is on piano, we all sing together and we change the set if we feel like the audience would actually like to hear something else.
We have been playing together for so long now, so we have the flexibility to do stuff like that. And there’s a real ease and comfort within our band because we know each other so well. So I have grown into these concerts! It was not an easy fit for me in the beginning, but it is something I have grown to really love.
And on top of that we get to go and travel the world and meet new amazing people and see incredible new places. It has become one of my favorite things to do.”
That is really lovely. And you get to come here! Have you been to Australia before? Is this the first time?
“Never been. I have wanted to go my whole life. We have been trying to make this happen for a while now and it just hasn’t worked out timing wise. Now we’re all so excited that we get to come.”
Do you have a list of things that you need to see and do while you’re here?
“Not really! I don’t know! I am not much of a planner. I’ll have maybe a couple of things that I’ll have to do, but really I just want to go to the local shops and local pubs and restaurants, and really experience Australia instead of what a book tells me that I need to go see.”
You said earlier that it’s taken you sort of a long time to grow into these concerts, but they were something that you really enjoyed seeing yourself. Were there any that have stood out for you as being really magical, or wonderful experiences you have had as an audience member?
“Oh god!! I would say… I mean I have always idolised Bernadette Peters, and seeing her in concerts is pretty magical. She is a magical performer. And she’s one of those people that, while she is this magical creature… I keep using that word, but that is like the perfect word for her. You feel very close to her at the end of her show, you feel like she has really shared a part of herself with you without being pretentious or too much of a performance or anything. I think she is just the best of the best.”
That’s so true. She came out here a couple of years ago and the way that she could completely inhabit a song for the duration of the song then step out of it and be Bernadette again was really, really something.
You mentioned your husband is part of your band, and that you have been friends with Matt as well for a long time. Did you all create the show together, is it a collaborative process?
“I mean, kind of. At the very beginning it was more like “okay, what songs have I done in shows, what songs would I really like to do, and How do these songs all fit together? What do I talk about? And now we have been doing it for so long, and Matt will out of the blue text me with a song idea, or my husband will say “I have a list of things you need to listen to because you need to sing these.” So it has grown into this really collaborative process, especially in arranging and singing these songs.
Something that is interesting is that my husband and Matt Cusson, they don’t read music.
“Which is really cool because that means that every time we sing a song it will never be sung or played the same way ever again, because we are all really just in tune with each other… it just evolves with every time we do it, because they’re not following something on a page. It is always really fun to do and to listen to what they add every time we do a song that we have done before. It just keeps evolving and it is really exciting.”
Is there a song that you haven’t sung yet that you’d like to work into the concert one day?
“Well, I am going to throw in some new songs that I have never done before, for Australia, because I heard that people love musicals there! So I am going to do some stuff that I have never done before but that I just want to do. Just because. And I think I want to keep them secret.”
Discover Megan Hilty’s secret songs in her show Megan Hilty: In Concert at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival on Sunday 12 June. For tickets and more information visit here.
Australian Tour Dates
Wednesday 8 June
Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne
Thursday 9 June
Concert Hall, Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC)
Friday 10 June
Theatre Royal, Sydney
Sunday 12 June
Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre