Megan Hilty doesn’t think she’s famous.
Sure, she’s the star of “Smash” on NBC, the dramatized — or, more accurately, soap opera-ized — story of the making of a Broadway musical based on Marilyn Monroe’s life. Yes, despite the show’s insistence that Katharine McPhee deserves to play America’s bottle-blond sweetheart, the 31-year-old Hilty is so obviously the right person for the role that it is difficult to watch the program without shouting at your television (totally unbiased reporting over here).
And it’s true that her portrayal of Doralee Rhodes in “9 to 5: The Musical” on Broadway — a show based on the 1980 film, in which Rhodes was played by Dolly Parton — earned her multiple award nominations, including a Drama Desk nod. Plus, in a very meta and Marilyn-themed twist, Hilty played Lorelei Lee in a concert staging of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” in May.
But Hilty insists that her fame is yet to come. People do approach her on the street, she says, but not for the reasons you might think.
“Everybody talks to my dogs before they talk to me,” she said, referring to her two Jack Russell terriers, Harley and Gracie. “But that’s okay. They’re cooler than I am.” She believes this will be true forever: “My dogs will always be cooler than me, no matter what TV show I’m on.”
The Monroe doppelganger was in town last month to support the Washington Humane Society at its annual Bark Ball and will be back in D.C. to open the concert for “A Capitol Fourth,” the PBS-sponsored Fourth of July celebration. The event, hosted by Tom Bergeron, will also include an Olympian-filled send-off to Team USA and a musical tribute to Gene Kelly. The concert segment will feature, among others, Kool & the Gang, the National Symphony Orchestra and Matthew Broderick, who will reprise his “Twist and Shout” dance routine from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” (Note: That is not true. Broderick will be singing numbers from the Broadway musical “Nice Work If You Can Get It.”)
The star-spangled spectacle will close out with live cannon fire and, of course, a gigantic fireworks display.
Hilty is “very, very excited” about opening the “Capitol Fourth” concert. In fact, she is very, very excited about everything; she describes all her projects with the exclamation-pointed enthusiasm of a freshman who can’t believe she scored an invite to a senior party. She’s at work recording her first album, a collection of covers and rearrangements of songs from the movies. While she can’t disclose specific titles just yet, she said to expect “some big epic theme songs” and “smaller songs from more independent films, like ‘Garden State.’ It’s a very eclectic mix, but the arrangements tie them all together.”
The project came about, Hilty said, directly as a result of her work on “Smash,” which is on the Columbia Records label (her record will be co-produced by Sony and Columbia). “I feel like I’ve been auditioning for them all year in doing the show,” she said.
In addition to getting her song-and-dance on, Hilty spends a not-insignificant amount of her “Smash” screen time bedding her director-slash-boyfriend, played by Jack Davenport. Fortunately, she has been preparing for these intimate scenes all her life: When she was 7, she landed her first theater gig in a children’s production of “Oliver.” She had one line and one kiss — her first kiss ever. “It was a big deal then!” she said. “It’s not so much of a big deal now.”
On a reality scale of 1 to 10, 1 being Oz and 10 being Kansas, Hilty would give “Smash,” she says, “a strong 6.8. Here’s the thing: We’re by no means making a reality show. It’s a drama. While a lot of it is based on truth, we have to amp up the drama so people want to watch.”
Does this mean what I think it means? “No one would EVER leave the stage door in full costume, let alone dance around Times Square all night,” she said, referring to a drug-induced excursion that her character took last season. “Everybody in the Broadway community was like, ‘That would never happen!’ ”
Though the New York-based Hilty is a West Coaster at heart (she grew up in Seattle), she’s psyched to be spending so much time in D.C. “Hopefully I’ll hit up the museums,” she said. “And I would die if I could have a tour of the White House. I actually got to meet the president [at] ‘Barack on Broadway,’ ” a fundraising event for Obama at New York’s New Amsterdam Theatre in which Hilty performed. “I’ve never been so star-struck in my life.”
Sounds like she shouldn’t have any trouble getting into the West Wing, since she’s such good buddies with POTUS. She laughed in agreement. “Oh, now we’re best friends.”
Airs live on PBS from the West Lawn of the Capitol at 8 p.m., July 4. Concert is free and open to the public. www.pbs.org/capitolfourth