BWW Interviews: Smash's Megan Hilty Talks THE AMERICAN SONGBOOK

By: Mar. 07, 2013
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This Friday, The New York Pops will celebrate the American Songbook with "Luck Be a Lady: Megan Hilty Sings Sinatra and More." The "Smash" star is set to perform songs performed by the Rat Pack, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland and--of course--Marilyn Monroe, including "Luck be a Lady" and "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend."

"I really wanted to hear this big symphony orchestra play this music," Hilty said before heading off to film an episode of her TV series. "I did it once at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and I'm very excited to hear the New York Pops play [the songs]." Working with music director and conductor Steven Reineke, Hilty selected songs that she had always wanted to hear backed by a large orchestra, like a medley of Dolly Parton songs she had done in a one-woman show that was now arranged for the Pops. "We went back and forth about what we love most and came up with this program," she recalled. "I always love a challenge, and I always love trying something new--and it's the biggest treat to have all those incredible musicians behind you. I almost wish I could just pull up a stool and just listen instead of having to work," she added with a laugh.

Finding the time to rehearse the show was another challenge ("There's so much stuff happening right now!") and finding the right dresses to accompany each moment in the show. ("There will be several costume changes.") But perhaps the biggest challenge was preparing for the concert while preparing to release her debut album at the same time. "It Happens All the Time" will be released later this month, and while Friday's concert will focus on the American Songbook, the album will feature original pop numbers.

"I always wanted to make an album, but I knew that I didn't want it to be a musical theater album," Hilty explained, then quickly added, "It's not that I don't love them--I own every musical theater album ever made--but it just didn't seem right for me. I wanted to wait until I had something to say with the songs I chose...I wanted to try something new."

The project started off as a cover album of movie soundtrack songs. "The music I was drawn to had a very strong theme: It was turning into a breakup album," she said. "The label started giving us original songs, just to see how they sat in my voice, and so many of them made sense that it became half originals and half covers." That theme, however, remained constant throughout the process. "It was not a sad breakup album," Hilty emphasized. "It was more like, 'This chapter in my life is over. What happens next?'

Hilty credits the album's producer, Andy Zulla, for pulling the project together. "It takes a village--or Andy Zulla!" she laughed. "He's so talented! He did the same thing for Smash! He plays all kinds of instruments, he has a really great ear for arranging things...He's who I worked closest with."

With several Broadway musicals under her belt, Hilty found it difficult to sing as herself rather than as a character. "It was my very first time doing anything in my own voice," she said. "Being in a recording studio is a very different feel from performing onstage. I mean, obviously, you can't just go in and do what you would do onstage. It reads differently. It's a skill that I've been working on--and will work on for some time. But it was a stretch!"

But for now, she's coming back to performing onstage, if only for one night. "It's every singer's dream to get to Carnegie Hall," Hilty said of Friday's concert. "It's a really big deal for me personally. And I can't wait to sing with the New York that will be two dreams off the list!"