Megan Hilty has an impressive Broadway resume, but most people today know her from her starring role as Ivy Lynn on Smash, NBC’s musical-drama about theater folks in New York City trying to put on a Broadway musical about Marilyn Monroe – but, more than anything else, about the drama behind the drama. With her debut album, It Happens All the Time, just out this week, she was kind enough to speak to us about her music career, about Smash, and about where she’s been and where she’s going.
Your debut CD is out, and you’ve said it’s the first recording you’ve made that’s “just you.” It has songs by people like Glen Ballard, Aimee Mann, and Carrie Underwood, and about half are songs no one’s heard before. How did you go about choosing the songs?
It started out as a “cover album” – I was going to do a bunch of covers of songs that were in movies. Then Columbia started sending over some original songs for me to demo, and so many of them ended up working out that we wanted to put them all on the album. It was a very organic process.
You’re able to sing in a whole variety of styles – Broadway, pop, even an operatic style like in that “Liaisons Dangereuses” number on last night’s episode of Smash. The songs on the album have a gentler pop sound. Is there an artistic statement you’re aiming to make that’s different from what comes across in your Broadway and TV career?
I wanted to stretch myself and do something that I’ve never done before. I think it would be completely expected to do a musical theater album, it would be kind of a no-brainer, but I wanted to do something that pushed me a little bit, and this certainly did. I don’t have any character or any show to hide behind. Just me.
You sang “No Cure” on Fox & Friends this morning, and you have a video for that song. Are there particular songs on the album that have special meaning to you?
I think they all do. I thought it was very important for each song to be important to me for some reason, otherwise there would be no point for them to be on the album.
Thinking of yourself as a pop singer, who did you love listening to growing up, and who are your influences or inspirations?
When I was little I wanted to be Whitney Houston, she was it for me. And then when I discovered musical theater it was Bernadette Peters.
Obviously you’re pretty busy right now, but you do have a few concerts on the schedule with a few different orchestras. Do you hope or plan to do concerts or tours singing the material from the CD?
I do, but they will be completely different concerts. The ones that I’m doing with the orchestras are much more show-tunes-y, covers of Frank Sinatra songs, stuff like that.
But if and when you have time, you’d like to take the songs from the CD on the road?
Yes, I would!
Your bio says you started taking vocal lessons at age 12, but it doesn’t say much about your beginnings as a performer.
I grew up in the theater and I did youth theater my whole life. There was no question that I was going to do this for a living, and my parents were very supportive. Theater was a big part of my life from the beginning.
You’ve had great success on Broadway (Glinda in Wicked, Doralee Rhodes in 9 to 5: The Musical), but you’re best known to the wider public for Smash, where your character, Ivy Lynn, is a super-talented but hard-luck aspiring Broadway star. What’s it like playing that kind of “real world” character as opposed to, say, a fantasy character like Glinda?
Oh, it’s a great departure from what I normally do. And luckily I still get to do the big splashy numbers every once in a while. So I guess it’s the best of both worlds.
In addition to stage and screen, you’ve done a lot of voiceover work – Shrek the Third, Phineas and Ferb, the upcoming animated film Dorothy of Oz. Is that kind of work as much fun as it sounds?
It is, it’s the most artistically fulfilling job, I think, because you can really try anything, there really are no limits, the worst that can happen is you can delete a take if it doesn’t work. So you get to go and try anything.
And does voiceover work pose any special challenges?
Yes, most of the time you’re doing it by yourself. Sometimes you have the luxury of the cast or even one other character in the booth with you, but most of the time you’re just by yourself. So you don’t have another character to play off of.
With a new season of Smash and a new album, you’ve got a lot on your plate, but is there anything else you’re working on or planning?
Just want to keep working! I want to do everything, and I don’t think that’s too ambitious.
Finally, I have to ask this question even if you can’t answer it: What’s in store for Ivy this season?
Things do get better for her. She’s actively trying to be a better person both personally and professionally, and things do eventually turn around for her and she does have some major successes!
Megan Hilty’s CD It Happens All The Time is out now on Sony Masterworks. Smash, now in its second season, airs Tuesday nights on NBC.