Interview: Megan Hilty & Jennifer Simard Talk About Bringing DEATH BECOMES HER to Broadway

Hilty and Simard talk about bringing Death Becomes Her to the stage, and to Broadway!

By: May. 23, 2024
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Interview: Megan Hilty & Jennifer Simard Talk About Bringing DEATH BECOMES HER to Broadway
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The world premiere pre-Broadway production of DEATH BECOMES HER officially opened this weekend at Broadway In Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre after recently announcing their upcoming Broadway run. We sat down with the production's leading ladies to talk about bringing the cult-classic film to the stage.

Madeline Ashton is the most beautiful actress (just ask her) ever to grace the stage and screen. Helen Sharp is the long-suffering author (just ask her) who lives in her shadow. They have always been the best of frenemies… until Madeline steals Helen’s fiancé away. As Helen plots revenge and Madeline clings to her rapidly fading star, their world is suddenly turned upside down by Viola Van Horn, a mysterious woman with a secret that’s to die for.

Starring Tony Award nominees Megan Hilty (Wicked, “Smash”), Jennifer Simard (Company, Disaster!), Christopher Sieber (Spamalot, Company), and Grammy® Award winner Michelle Williams (Destiny’s Child, Chicago), DEATH BECOMES HER, based on the classic 1992 film, is a drop-dead hilarious new musical comedy about friendship, love, and burying the hatchet…again, and again, and again.

What drew you to the role of Madeline Ashton in Death Becomes Her?

Megan: Death Becomes Her has always been one of my all-time favorite movies. As I’ve gotten older, my love for the film has only grown and now I identify very strongly with Madeline Ashton, particularly as a woman in the entertainment industry who is growing older and constantly questioning how far I am willing to go to maintain a youthful appearance.

Jennifer: I saw not only this movie but the catalogue of both actresses several times. I memorized a speech Ms. Streep gave in “Still of the Night” and lost count of how many times I saw Ms. Hawn in “Seems Like Old Times” and “Private Benjamin” not to mention this film we’ve now adapted to stage. To be chosen to play Ms. Hawn’s role in “Death Becomes Her” on Broadway is truly pinch me stuff. 
The film has a cult following - audiences are likely to come in with expectations, even if this is an entirely new adaptation. How do you balance in your performances what audiences loved about the film along with bringing your own, fresh take to the material?

Megan: If you’ve loved the film your whole life (like me), you are in for a real treat! The creative team has done a masterful job in paying homage to the film and what makes it so iconic, but at the same time making it entirely its own thing.  There are delightful easter eggs throughout the show for those people who know the film, but if you haven’t seen the film… you’re in for a real treat, too! And hopefully it will inspire everyone to revisit this cult-classic.

Jennifer: You find balance with honesty. Audiences know when you’re authentic and while we play homage with Easter eggs scattered throughout the show, we do not do impressions nor should our understudies of us. Each human has a uniqueness and if you bring your gifts and share your gifts and not have an attitude of proving, you’re gold. 
The theme of eternal youth is central to Death Becomes Her. How do you think this resonates with today’s audience?

Megan: This theme will resonate with our audiences as long as we continue to be inundated with images, ad campaigns and stories that perpetuate the idea that youth equals beauty and importance.  Unfortunately that narrative doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon… so until society truly believes that we are beautiful and important at all stages, shapes and sizes of life, the themes of Death Becomes Her will (unfortunately) always be relevant.

Jennifer: I think everyone can relate to the pressures of maintaining youth in a youth-centric culture. What is so wonderful about our show is the arc that the relationships you find, the people you find, that’s what really matters. 
What is it like working with a star-studded cast including Christopher Sieber and Michelle Williams?

Megan: Every single person in this cast is pure magic!  And Chris Gattelli has done an incredible job giving everyone a feature in the show.  We are surrounded by the best-of-the-best and I can’t believe I get to be a part of this amazingly talented group of people.

Chris Sieber is so hilarious and I feel so lucky to get to hear Michelle Williams sing to me every day!

Jennifer: It’s wonderful. Christopher is a long time friend and collaborator of mine. We have a short hand as we discover things because we know each other so well. Michelle may play a diva as Viola but in real life she is the kindest, most down to Earth person. It’s been nothing but a pleasure. 
Can you discuss the dynamic between Madeline and Helen and how it's evolved between you from rehearsals to getting the show up in front of an audience?

Megan: It has been really fun to figure out what makes these two fascinating women work so well together.  What has made this process particularly exciting has been discovering all the nuances of their relationship with the great Jennifer Simard.  She is incredibly smart, exceptionally funny and a powerhouse of a performer, so figuring this relationship out with her has been such a gift.

Jennifer: They love to “hate” each other and it’s great to see their arc and ultimately what is their love story. Megan and I have prioritized protecting their relationship as the most important thing in the show. Part of that work is prioritizing our relationship as Megan & Jenn. I think our friendship and playfulness comes across onstage and when you have a pro like Megan to volley with , it’s so easy. Megan is smart, gorgeous, funny & a sublime partner. I’m very lucky.
How does the musical adaptation add a new dimension to the story originally told in the film?

Megan: Music will always add a new and exciting dimension to any story, simply because it has the ability to tap into emotion the way that the spoken word simply cannot.  Our music, in particular, deepens the humor (and sincerity) thanks to our amazing composers, Julia Mattison & Noel Carey.  The lyrics alone are hysterical, but how the lyrics are so expertly set to music makes them resonate in an even funnier way - it’s really thrilling to be one of the first people to voice their incredible songs.
What’s your favorite musical number in the show, and why?

Megan: I have two favorites!  Without giving too much away… my first number in the show is EPIC! And while it’s not necessarily what the audience is expecting, it is incredibly fun and sets the tone for the rest of the evening.  But nothing can top the Alive Forever, the 11o’clock number sung by Madeline and Helen. But really, ALL of the music in the show is just perfect.  I am in complete awe of Julia and Noel and the remarkable work they’ve done on this score.

Jennifer: Hands down it’s the 11:00 number I share with Megan, “Alive Forever.” I love that it’s not a solo moment but one that is shared and mirrors the theme of the show, finding your person. It’s a perfect song.

How do you maintain the balance between comedy and the darker elements of the story?

Jennifer: I have always maintained that the funniest comedy is rooted in the dark side, in pain, in pathos; that’s the nougaty center and when you find THAT, “balance" is the natural byproduct. 
What has been the most rewarding part of being involved in this production?

Megan: I don’t know if this counts as “rewarding” but I am constantly blown away by the leadership of our company and how respected we feel by the producers, Chris Herzberger & Lowe Cunningham, and our director, Chris Gattelli.  Every single one of us feels like we are major team players and we’re all contributing to the success of this show, thanks to their guidance & generosity.  
What do you hope the audience takes away from the show?

Megan: I hope audiences completely forget about life outside of the theater for two and a half hours and have the best time laughing their asses off at our very big, very silly show!