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Rita Wilson Takes on Broadway's Nightclub, 54 Below

The actress/singer brings her new concert to the intimate venue through April 20.

If you've seen It's Complicated or Sleepless in Seattle or Girls, you'll know her as an actress, but Rita Wilson is also an accomplished singer. After releasing her debut album of rock covers, AM/FM, in 2012, Wilson makes her 54 Below debut on April 14. In anticipation of the concert, which runs through April 20, TheaterMania sat down with Wilson to discuss set lists, musicals, and the pearls of wisdom she gave to her husband, Lucky Guy star Tom Hanks, with regards to making his Broadway debut.

Rita Wilson begins her engagement at 54 Below on April 14.
(© David Gordon)

Tell us about your show.
I have a full six-piece band, and I'm looking at the stage and going, "I hope we all fit up there!" It's not really like a cabaret show, but more like a…concert? We go through the '60s and '70s, and the songs that I picked are all telling a story. I picked songwriters who told stories that were very visual to me. I remember having real experiences each time I heard that song, and what that song meant, and where I was when I heard it, and why I loved it so much. I wanted to tell those stories as well as the stories of the songs.

How did you determine a set list?
I wanted to do songs that were on the album, but also songs that were not on the album, ones that I loved that fit in, and I might be adding some new ones for this venue.

Of all the songs you perform in this concert, what are your favorite ones to sing?
From this concert, there are so many. I really like "Angel of the Morning." I like "Come See About Me." I like "How Do You Do It?" And there's an original song I do by Patti Scialfa (of the E Street Band) called "Every Perfect Picture" that I also love just because it's a beautiful song.

You made your Broadway debut in Chicago. Are there other musicals on the horizon for you?
Anything. Come to me. I really do love musicals. I love performing in them. I love the community that's created when you're in the company of amazing singers and dancers. I love the discipline. And I just love the fun. I remember [when I was] doing Chicago, I never laughed so hard in my life. And, I've kept such good friends, and that's so important. They're treasured friendships now.

Did your husband, Tom Hanks, ask you for advice before taking on Broadway in Lucky Guy? Yes, he did. It was great because it's rare that Tom hasn't done something first. Aside from slalom water-skiing, which I can do but he can't. Colin Hanks, my son, and I have both done Broadway, and I said to him, "The number-one thing is make sure you don't eat close to performance time." You really have to watch how much you eat and when you eat. And then I said, "Take a nap between shows," because that's really important — at least it was for me. But he's on stage all the time, so it's good advice for him. And get up in the morning and test your voice to see how it's doing.

What do you both make of the crowd that waits for him to sign autographs on 44th Street?
[Laughs] It's insane! But everyone's been very respectful and really cool.