[Editor's note: This article was originally published in January 2016. Megan Hilty is now a 2016 Tony Award nominee.]
For Megan Hilty, her return to Broadway in the Roundabout Theatre Company revival of the 1982 comedy, Noises Off, presented multiple challenges. Not because it is her first Broadway production since 9 to 5: The Musical, which ran for five months in 2009 and earned the 34-year-old actress a Drama Desk Award nomination. Or that it follows the short-lived, but beloved, part on NBC’s Smash and subsequent recurring TV roles, which have taken her back and forth between Los Angeles and New York City. It just took a lot of work to pull off.
The revival, directed by Jeremy Herrin, follows the run of Nothing On, the play within a play, from its dismal dress rehearsal to its absurd final performance. Hilty plays the inexperienced bombshell, Brooke Ashton, in her first speaking part. It’s a very mechanical play, with an ensemble cast constantly moving about. A single performance -- when pulled off brings tears of laughter to the audience -- is no small feat.
“It’s more mentally exhausting if anything, especially on two-show days,” Hilty tells ETonline on a Wednesday between performances of the three-act production. “By the end of the day, we've technically done the play within the play six times in different ways. By the end of the night, you have to really, really be focusing. You can't let your mind wander, otherwise you'll lose tiny cues.”
And those cues are plentiful, especially in the second act, which is largely performed in silence as the audience watches the action taking place backstage. Rehearsals -- which started in November 2015, just one month before previews began -- were especially tedious. “It was not easy,” she says of the process that included a mock set with its six on-stage entrances and multiple levels. “It’s all mechanical. There’s a rhythm to it and the play is very, very precise.”
That precision seen on stage features several gasp-worthy moments, including an axe hurled up to Hilty, who’s standing on the ledge of the two-story set. Admittedly, she has missed the prop a few times, once it even hit the wall. “Stuff like that happens all the time,” the actress says. “That’s the beauty of it. It kind of goes along with the nature of the show that it must go on and you have to figure it out.”
“It’s even better to see people panic along the way,” Hilty giggles.
Perhaps the biggest panic moment for Hilty came when she -- pregnant at the time -- learned the revival was moving forward. Her character, Brooke, spends most of her time in lingerie and four-and-half inch heels. “I never ever thought I'd play a character that wore this little clothing,” she admits. “Like, to the point where I got a giant tattoo on my back, because I thought, 'Nobody is going to hire me for something where I have my clothes off.’”
So after giving birth to her daughter, Viola Philomena, with husband Brian Gallagher, the actress knew she had little over a year to lose the baby weight. “That was great motivation,” Hilty laughs. “I’m either the craziest person or the smartest.”
While she looks stunning on stage, Hilty is still finding the confidence to run around (as well as climb ladders and crawl on the stage) in her slinky costume. “The hardest thing about doing the show was telling myself to be confident in whatever state my body was in,” she says, not wanting her trepidation about her figure to distract from her performance. “I did a lot of work up until when we opened to get myself physically in shape for this. Right before our first audience, I really had to come to terms with -- everybody feels insecure, certainly when they're showing this much skin -- but I really had to come to terms with being confident with wherever it is that my body is right now.”
“That was a tough thing for me to swallow and to go forward with,” Hilty says.
Noises Off runs now through March 13 at the American Airlines Theatre.