Megan Mullally
Megan Mullally
Honey, honey! If you think Megan Mullally is just like Karen Walker, the outrageous character she plays on the hit TV series Will & Grace, think again. Hailed by the New York Post as "the funniest woman on TV" for her no-holds-barred portrayal of the booze-lapping, work-shirking Karen, MM is a theater trouper, having made her Broadway debut as Marty in the 1994 production of Grease! before stepping up to the leading female role of Rosemary Pilkington in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying one year later, opposite Matthew Broderick. She has also done theater in L.A. and Chicago.

According to her bio, "one of her fondest projects is her glamorous cover band, Supreme Music Program, with whom she has released two CDs, most recently Big as a Berry on the Fynsworth Alley label." Now, vocalist Mullally and the boys in the band -- Greg Kuehn, Stuart Mathis, and Joseph Berardi -- are getting ready to do their stuff for two nearly sold-out performances in the spectacular new Allen Room at the Time Warner Center on Friday, February 11, as part of Lincoln Center's American Songbook series. (They will also be playing the K.C. Jazz Club at the Kennedy Center on March 11 and 12.) Via telephone, I spoke with Megan about what's in store for those who were lucky enough to snag tickets to the Allen Room gig.

********************

THEATERMANIA: There's a lot of excitement about your American Songbook appearance. Are you guys going to be doing any songs from Big as a Berry? I love that CD.

MEGAN MULLALLY: You're a sweetheart! We're doing a couple of songs from that album; then we're doing stuff that we haven't recorded but have done live, and one or two brand new things that we've never done before. The hardest part of the whole thing is figuring out the set list for this venue, particularly since the series is called American Songbook. I was looking at our list and I noticed that, technically, not every single song that we're doing was written by Americans; there's one by Kurt Weill, and we're doing a song by P.J. Harvey. She's British, so we're just going to pretend that she's very patriotically American.

TM: I don't imagine that Lincoln Center is very strict in terms of the series title.

MM: Yeah, I don't think anybody's gonna shut us down! At one point, I thought, "Oh my God," because our show is not a club-act kind of show like some people who are doing American Songbook have -- yet we're maybe not as laid back as Dar Williams or Lisa Loeb, who are also performing in the series. It's somewhere in between. We don't really do any standards.

TM: There are a few songs on Big as a Berry that might be classified as standards. "Danny Boy," for example.

MM: Yeah, see, we're not doing that! We are doing a Brecht/Weill song that's technically a show tune. There's no patter in the show. Then again, on the other side of the coin, the material's probably more theatrical than some of the stuff that other people in the series are known for.

TM: Is there no patter at all?

MM: Well, I mean, I talk -- but it's not planned out beforehand. I will be speaking, but on which topics? We don't know yet!

TM: Is there any through-line to the program.

MM: No. There is SO not a theme here. It's just the craziest grab bag -- something for everyone, I guess. It would be almost impossible to put the songs in any kind of order that means anything because the styles of the songs are so radically different. I will have a surprise guest star, who I cannot divulge, and the number that I will be doing with this person is so far afield from everything else in the show that it's going to be quite jarring. We'll see what happens!

TM: Did you work up the program in collaboration with your musical director?

MM: I always do the set list myself and try to gear it to what I'm feeling at the time, but more than that, I try to gear it to the venue and the audience. Of course, it's a very savvy audience at Lincoln Center. It's different from playing -- I don't mean this in any judgmental way, but I grew up in Oklahoma City and I played a couple of benefit concerts there in August at their Civic Center. It was fantastic but it was a very different set list than we're going to be doing in New York. I wanted the songs to be a little more accessible because that particular audience is not gonna know from an Edna St. Vincent Millay sonnet set to music by Jeff Blumenkrantz. [pauses] Actually, on second thought, I might have done that song there! [laughs] Anyway, even if we don't have a lot of songs in our repertoire that are recognizable to most people, our shows are always palatable. About halfway through, people think, "I don't know any of these songs but I'm enjoying them." We're sort of like a songwriter tribute band; our shows are about the music and the lyrics. I'd say that we have about 70 songs in our repertoire to choose from.

TM: You've become famous as Karen on Will & Grace. Do you enjoy playing against that type when you do concerts and other things?

MM: I don't consciously think about playing against anything because I'm so different from that character. I got together with my musical director and keyboard player, Greg Kuehn, before Will & Grace even started. There have always been certain songs that I've responded to emotionally; I was very susceptible to music when I was a kid. Later on, I thought, "Wouldn't it be cool to get some of these songs out there where more people can hear them?" So that's why I sing. Sometimes, people are very disappointed when I'm not Karen -- and Supreme Music Program is probably the least commercial band in the history of music. Hopefully, people won't be stomping out of the show and asking for their money back. I may take my pants off, which would be an added bonus.

TM: I saw you in How to Succeed... on Broadway. In retrospect, it's amazing to think that you played Rosemary Pilkington, a character that's pretty much the polar opposite of Karen Walker.

MM: I know! If Karen ever met Rosemary, she would punch her out.

TM: Will we ever see you back on Broadway, schedule permitting?

MM: I have an idea for a musical that I'm developing; it's top-secret classified information, but I'm really excited about it. I think it's gonna be hilarious.

TM: Is it an adaptation of something, or...

MM: It's a secret!

TM: Okay! Well, both of your shows at the Allen Room are practically sold out. Have you been to see the room yet?

MM: No, but I saw pictures of it online and I almost fainted. Oh my God, it's unbelievable. Gorgeous. I think we're gonna have a lot of fun.