A version of this story appears in the Sunday Life section of The Oklahoman.
Megan Mullally comes home for special Lyric Theatre engagement
Returning to the Lyric stage for the first time since 2004, the Emmy-winning actress, who grew up in Oklahoma City, will give two performances with her new project, a band with fellow actress/musician Stephanie Hunt enigmatically named Nancy and Beth. She and her cohorts will deliver on Wednesday and Thursday risque performances jam-packed with jazzy roots-rock, bawdy humor and adult language.
Megan Mullally still recalls a dark moment with Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma that illuminated one of her first and only acting lessons.
Then 12 years old, the future two-time Emmy winner and the other girl playing the younger two of Tevye’s five daughters in “Fiddler on the Roof” were struggling to deliver their lines. So, longtime Lyric artistic director Lyle Dye used a memorable method to help the budding actresses.
“We were trying to do our dialogue, but I guess it was really, really bad ‘cause we were kids and we didn’t know what we were doing,” Mullally said in a recent interview. So Lyle Dye had everybody in the whole cast except for us like line up and sit down against the wall. He put us right in the middle of the room and then he turned out all the lights. It was pitch dark. And he had us do our lines in the dark,” she said in a recent phone interview from Los Angeles.
“And for some reason … I kind of connected the dots, like, ‘Oh, we’re just saying stuff. We’re just staying things that make sense, so let’s just say them like you say them in real life.’ It was my first and one of my only acting lessons ‘cause I never really studied acting.”
A four-time Screen Actors Guild Award winner for the hit TV series “Will & Grace,” Mullally, 55, is coming back to the city and stage where she grew up with a new project, a band with fellow actress/musician Stephanie Hunt enigmatically named Nancy and Beth. In Mullally’s first Lyric Theatre engagement in a decade, she and her cohorts will deliver o Wednesday and Thursday risque performances jam-packed with jazzy roots-rock, bawdy humor and adult language.
“The first show sold out in 45 minutes, and I was so excited. So they added another show, and then that one sold out also,” she said. “The feel of the band is pretty celebratory. People often say that they wanted to get up and dance – or they often do get up and dance. We’ve played some music festivals where the whole audience is dancing along with us. We’ve sort of incorporated a lot more choreography. There was a rebirthing when we got our cordless headset mics because that just sort of opened the floodgates for the dah-nce.”
Fateful road trip
The former Oklahoma City Ballet soloist and Hunt were road-tripping from Hunt’s hometown of Austin, Texas, where they were shooting the indie film “Somebody Up There Likes Me,” to OKC, where Mullally’s mother still lives, when they discovered their keen musical chemistry.
“It was like 115 (degrees) outside, so we went and we got in my rental car and we turned on the air conditioning and she had her ukulele – which I now have learned to play, too – and she was gonna play this song and she said, ‘There’s this one part that you have to sing harmony with me on.’ … And so we did it – and then we just kind of had a little freakout deal over how well our voices sound together,” Mullally said.
“I think we like the same taste in music – which of course is key– and then we have a very weird simpatico where we just kind of feel the way that we’ve rephrased the lyrics. … That’s just something that only happens rarely. Like I had that kind of affinity with Sean Hayes on ‘Will & Grace,’ but that doesn’t happen that often, where you’re kind of almost like psychic twins.”
Their shows blend music and comedy, and they perform covers ranging from the pretty piano spiritual “In the Cool of the Day” to the sassy swinging tune “Jack, You’re Dead” to “filthy raps” including a certain Riskay number that explicitly recommends women use their noses to sniff out their partner’s suspected infidelity.
“When we rap, it’s just gonna be funny anyway. I don’t know, the criteria is very broad, like it’s just kind of whatever we get a kick out of. … We actually have something called the Freakout List, and if it doesn’t make it to the Freakout List, then we don’t do it,” Mullally said.
“We get booked at a lot of comedy festivals, but then we also get booked at a lot of legitimate musical venues. So it’s a little of both.”
Although the band has only together about a year and a half, Mullally, Hunt and their three backing musicians already have made their national TV debut on “Conan,” performed across the country and in Australia and recorded several songs for an album planned for fall release.
“In such a short span of time, we’ve learned a lot about the band and the band is changing is evolving all the time,” she said.
“More than anything, it’s just that it’s so pure. It’s kind of like two kids playing and we can just sort of do whatever we want and whatever tickles us. You know, it’s funny when you follow your own sort of bliss, then other people tend to respond in kind, meaning audiences. It’s really weird how that works, but it does seem to apply to Nancy & Beth especially.”
Along with the band, the multitalented Casady High School graduate is continuing to work in movies and television. She and her husband, fellow comedic actor Nick Offerman, voice a couple of animated bears in the English-language version of the Oscar-nominated French/Belgium film “Ernest & Celestine.” The dubbed version screened last month at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, where Mullally and Offerman hosted the awards ceremony.
“It’s magical. It’s an amazing animated movie,” It’s funny, it’s sweet, it’s beautiful, I mean it’s all the things you would like it to be, very simple and beautiful … just very pristine. I’m really excited: she said. “It’s the first movie I’ve been in that’s even been close to being nominated for an Oscar. So I’m thrilled.”
Although she tries to take on sharply written material in whatever format she works, Mullally said she tends to say yes to projects that more cautious performers might turn down. But that willingness to take risks has led to some exciting opportunities, like her uproarious role as the aggressively unattractive chief of staff in the Emmy-winning satirical Adult Swim series “Children’s Hospital,” which she said will film its sixth season over the summer.
“I think a lot of actors maybe who have been on a hit show and been lucky enough to get successful might say ‘no’ more than I do. And maybe that’s good, maybe that’s smart. I don’t know. But I like to work. I mean, part of it for me is that I was a struggling actor, could barely pay my rent, until I was almost 40.
“So I had 20 years being a professional actor and singer and whatever struggling pretty much. I mean, I had some success. I mean, I did work fairly consistently and I did a couple of Broadway musicals and that kind of thing. But more or less, I wasn’t like in the chips. So I think I’m just like acculturated and trained to if I get offered a job, I would take the job. You don’t turn down work, you know,” she said.
“I don’t know too many actresses … who would appear on camera with no makeup, a hunchback, a man’s wig, giant horrible glasses with lenses like the Hubble telescope and walking on a walker. Like, I’m not sure that there are too many actresses of my age particularly who would be like ‘Oh, yeah, sure, I’ll do that.’”
“Megan Mullally and Stephanie Hunt Are Nancy and Beth”
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday.
Where: Lyric at the Plaza, 1725 NW 16.
Information: 524-9312 or www.lyrictheatreokc.com.