Megan Hilty hasn't clinched the role of Marilyn Monroe on TV -- yet -- but onstage is a different story.
On NBC's "Smash," Hilty plays Ivy Lynn, a veteran performer vying with a wholesome newcomer ("American Idol's" Katharine McPhee) for the lead in a Broadway musical about everyone's fave blond bombshell. Who gets the role is still a mystery -- but those on Team Ivy who need a Marilyn fix can check out Hilty in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," part of the "Encores! Great American Musicals in Concert" series at New York City Center May 9 through May 13.
The "Encores!" series offers audiences a chance to see forgotten musicals in somewhat informal productions (actors carry scripts). In this madcap comedy set in the 1920s, Hilty plays Lorelei Lee, the original "dumb blonde," a role that made Carol Channing a star in the 1949 Broadway production and secured Monroe's fame in the 1953 film version.
Hilty, a Seattle native who has starred on Broadway in "Wicked" and "9 to 5," chatted with Newsday.
So why do gentlemen prefer blondes?
Ha! There's a perception you can pull things over on a blonde. But the blonde -- at least in this show -- knows how to get what she wants. Don't judge a book by its cover.
What's it like to be back onstage after a season of TV?
It's so much fun rehearsing. In TV, it's go, go, go. Minimal rehearsals. Here, we get to develop moments. I feel like I'm home.
Have you read the 1920s book that inspired this musical?
Yeah, by Anita Loos. It's fantastic. And she wrote a sequel: "But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes."
Hmm . . . thoughts?
Hey. It's nice to be preferred, I'll just say that.
"Smash's" first season is winding up. What surprised you most about TV work?
I didn't expect to bond with the cast like we did. In theater, we all become a family -- you create this bond because you're so vulnerable onstage, you have to develop this . . . insane trust. I thought TV would be different. But we all bonded quickly, intensely.
Ohhh, you can be honest -- between you and me -- what's the dirt on Katharine McPhee?
Well . . . between you and me . . . nobody's a bigger goofball than Katharine . . . and me, when we're together. We run around like kids off camera.
You've had to think a lot about Marilyn Monroe. Any insights?
What's surprising is that in the midst of all this glamour and adoration, she felt incredibly alone. She desperately, desperately wanted to be taken seriously. And to be loved. Those are two basic human needs. People loved this character she was playing but not who she was. It's tragic.
I gotta say -- I'm troubled by "Smash." There's such focus on being the star. Obviously, who plays Marilyn is a major plot point, but there's all this dialogue where the message seems to be, "Being a star is all that matters, and if you're in the ensemble, you're nothing."
I hate that.
You must have friends in the ensembles of shows.
Do they talk about this?
I know a lot of people in the theater community are upset by certain lines in the show. And there are lines that, to be honest, rub me the wrong way, too. But they did have an entire episode about how the ensemble is the heart and soul of the show. It's ridiculous to say the ensemble is nothing. I almost turned down the audition for Ivy because it said she was a dancer in the ensemble for 10 years. I can't dance well enough to do that. That level of talent is something I respect . . . deeply. So, no, I don't agree with all the lines. . . . Some of the most talented people on the face of the planet are in the ensemble.
When you're not talking Marilyn or blondes . . . what are you obsessed with?
My two Jack Russell terriers. They're a handful but great. Umm . . . I just finished a motivational book called "Take the Stairs."
You need . . . motivation?
Absolutely! We all do! I try to get inspired to be better.
After "Blondes," will you get to relax?
I just got my first record deal with Columbia and Sony Masterworks combined. So I'll start recording. It's all new material. It's not gonna be a pop album, per se. We haven't nailed down the sound yet. It's a new adventure.
Cool. So record execs are now asking, "What's the Megan Hilty sound?"
What is the Megan Hilty sound? Yeah . . . I don't know. We're gonna find out.