Monday, May 4, 2009

Megan Kathleen Hilty

It's fitting that Megan Hilty's fairytale rise
to stardom would come via Wicked, a Broadway musical based on Gregory Maguire's reimagining of the classic fairytale, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

The Seattle, Washington native always dreamed of one day performing on a Broadway stage. Hilty began singing at a young age by mimicking the voices she heard on her parent's albums, prompting them to take her to a voice teacher, who was impressed with her range.

"Because I was mimicking those different voices that I was listening to, she thought that I had an abnormally large voice for a little person," Hilty said.

Hilty was trained classically and eventually got involved in youth theater programs. She went to a performing arts high school, then to the Carnegie Mellon School of Drama. A week before her college graduation, Hilty was cast in Wicked.

The casting director saw her in a showcase put on by her university and was so impressed that he originally wanted to cast Hilty in the national tour of Little Shop of Horrors. Before that came to fruition, the casting director called her back and told her they were looking to cast Kristin Chenoweth's replacement in Wicked, so Hilty flew out to New York to audition. Because she was still in school, Hilty had missed the initial auditions and was called in to tryout during the final callback.

"I think I was kind of the wildcard," Hilty said.

She didn't have high expectations going in to the audition. Mostly, Hilty was just hoping to make them laugh and feel like they hadn't wasted their time calling her in. She never expected to actually land the role.

"They had me see a show the night before," Hilty recalled. "I remember sitting there afterwards going, 'Nobody could do this after Kristin Chenoweth, let alone a no-name from nowhere.' So I had absolutely no expectations."

Jennifer Laura Thompson was cast as Chenoweth's replacement, but Hilty was cast as Thompson's standby. Ultimately, Thompson left the show and Hilty was officially given the role of Glinda. While she was excited to have the role, taking over for two accomplished Broadway actors at such a young age was quite a daunting task.

"Those are two of the funniest comedian singers on Broadway," Hilty said.

It took Hilty a while to step out of their shadow and find her voice.

"It was really hard not to try and mimic them," Hilty admitted. "That's actually what I tried to do in the beginning, but it really didn't work. I had to go back and approach it like any other script and try to forget about their performances and try to make it my own. Otherwise, it would never be funny or touching or real."

Hilty has played the role of Glinda for four years now and has performed Wicked in five different cities - New York, Portland, Seattle, Toronto and Los Angeles. She is still currently performing in Wicked in Los Angeles, doing a show every night of the week expect Monday and two performances on Saturday and Sunday. Even after such a long time playing the role, she still feels like she is perfecting her performance.

"It took me a long time to feel comfortable with how I was doing it," Hilty said. "I'd say that I'm still struggling with it, which is a good thing though because I think that's what's made me be able to do it for so long."

Hilty will give her final performance as Glinda in Los Angeles on May 11th, but she hasn't ruled out the possibility of one day returning to the role.

"It's a rare occurrence that you get such a great female role, so I think it will be great to revisit someday," Hilty said. "I think it's one of those shows like Phantom of the Opera where it's going to be there forever, so I think eventually maybe I'll go back to it."

Hilty plans on celebrating her final performance by treating herself to a glass of wine, something she doesn't indulge in very often. "When you sing so much, you can't really drink a lot of alcohol or anything because it dries out your vocal cords," Hilty said.

While she will soon be leaving Wicked behind, she is reuniting with her Wicked castmate Shoshana Bean. The two enjoyed working with each other so much that they developed their own variety show called The Meg'An Sho Show. The show, which Hilty described as "Carol Burnett meets Ellen DeGeneres," features interviews with special guests, interactions with the audience and musical performances by the duo. Their first show on March 31st was sold out and they have a second show scheduled on Cinco de Mayo.

Hilty has also signed on to play Doralee Rhodes in a musical adaptation of 9 to 5. Having already had to follow in the footsteps of Kristin Chenoweth didn't make it an easier when Hilty originally signed on to play the role originally made famous by Dolly Parton.

"It was so daunting at first," Hilty revealed.

Making the role even more daunting is that Parton herself is a large part of the production. The country music star wrote all of the music for the play and will be involved in the rehearsals. Luckily, Parton was able to put Hilty at ease about taking over the role and Hilty is excited to be able to discuss the role with Parton. She's also looking forward to donning Parton's trademark fashion.

"I'm definitely looking forward to seeing what my costumes are going to look like and my hair," Hilty said.

While Hilty is worried that there are too many musicals out there today that are simply remakes or adaptations of films or novels, she is proud of the two big productions she is a part of.

"I've been really fortunate to be a part of two exceptionally great stories that translate beautifully to the stage," Hilty said.

After 9 to 5, Hilty is unsure which direction she would like to see her career head. "It's funny because Broadway was always the goal," Hilty said. "I never dreamed that I would be here so quickly."

She hopes to be able to do focus more on television and film roles in the future. Hilty has already worked on both the large and small screen - playing Glinda on an episode of Ugly Betty, as well as guest spots on The Suite Life of Zack and Cody and The Closer and she was the singing voice of Snow White in Shrek the Third.

She would also like to put out an album in the future and hopes to develop her own shoe line.

"I love shoes. I know it's crazy that a girl would love shoes," Hilty said. "I don't think you have to sacrifice comfort for style."

Hilty believes that you can have a four-inch heel and still walk comfortably all day. She said that developing a shoe was hard work, but enjoys the challenge. Perhaps she will one day develop her own comfortable pair of ruby red slippers.

While her career may be off to a fairytale start, the ambitious actress hopes that people see that there is more to her than her portrayal of the dumb blonde Glinda. She is recognized quite often in LA for her role as Glinda and fans sometime have trouble separating the actress from the part. While she thoroughly enjoys interacting with fans of the musical, she hopes that she isn't pigeon-holed as a dumb blonde.

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