In January, Broadway star Megan Hilty was in Atlanta performing for more than 6,000 theater students at the iTheatrics Junior Theater Festival and told the kids to reach for their dreams.
That night, Hilty talked about her career and lamented how, in 2003, she was this close to performing as Audrey in a Broadway revival of “Little Shop of Horrors,” but lost the part when the actor cast as Seymour—Anthony Rapp of “Rent” fame—was deemed too old for her by the director. She followed the story with a beautiful version of “Suddenly Seymour,” showing just how wonderful she would have been in the role.
Now, 15 years after that fateful rejection, Hilty will be living one of her own dreams, starring as Audrey in the Kennedy Center’s five-night Center Stage concert of the classic musical.
“It’s crazy. I immediately said yes, and I am so excited, especially to do it at the Kennedy Center,” Hilty said. “It’s a perfectly written show. The music is amazing, the lyrics are incredible and they are such wonderful characters, especially Audrey. She epitomizes love and trust, but also she’s damaged. She so desperately wants to be loved, but doesn’t think she deserves it.”
Originally an Off-Broadway smash in 1982, “Little Shop of Horrors” was written by composer Alan Menken and writer Howard Ashman, and was based on a low-budget dark comedy from 1960. It also spawned a hit movie starring Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene, reprising her role as Audrey from the original production.
“I’ve been listening to her performance since I was young, but I don’t want to copy her performance,” Hilty said. “I’ve made a career out of taking things that other people have already made super famous and trying to make it my own while paying homage to them, and the things they contributed to make the role what it is. It’s a delicate balance.”
The story revolves around Seymour Krelborn, a down-on-his-luck floral shop assistant who discovers a strange plant, which he affectionately names “Audrey II” after his crush, and the plant shockingly develops a soulful R&B voice and an unquenchable thirst for human blood.
Under the direction of Mark Brokaw, the Kennedy concert also stars “How I Met Your Mother” star Josh Radnor as Seymour, Tony Award winner James Monroe Iglehart as Audrey II, and Lee Wilkof, the original Seymour back in 1982, as Mr. Mushnik.
“I was so excited when I heard Lee was part of this because it’s thrilling to be in the room with someone who created the show and he tells us stories of how things came to be and those original stories of how it all started,” Hilty said. “Josh is a total dreamboat. He’s kind and generous and so great for this part.”
Born and raised in Seattle, Hilty became interested in theater after an eighth-grade trip to New York City where she saw her first Broadway production, “Beauty and the Beast.”
“My mom started taking us to the theater very young and took us to a lot of national tours that came through,” she said. “I always knew I would be in the arts in some way. That’s where my heart and passion was.”
While not landing that original “Little Shop of Horrors” may have been disappointing at the time, it allowed her to be available to make her Broadway debut in “Wicked” as an understudy for Glinda in 2005, a role she eventually took over.
“It’s that old cliché, ‘everything happens for a reason.’ In that case, something that was extremely devastating to me turned out to be one of the best things ever,” she said. “‘Wicked’ was one of the best things to ever happen to me, career-wise, and I can’t imagine my life having gone any other way.”
More Broadway roles followed and then Hilty was cast as Ivy Lynn in the NBC musical dramedy, “Smash,” bringing Marilyn Monroe to life and showcasing her amazing vocals to millions. “Smash” ended after only two seasons and Hilty has gone on to other roles in TV, on Broadway and performing in concerts around the world.
Once “Little Shop of Horrors” ends, Hilty will be filming a PBS special, which will air in February. With rehearsals in full swing, she can’t wait to finally play Audrey in front of a crowd and she feels that people will love it as much as she does.
“This show is a bit scary, but it has a lot of heart,” Hilty said. “I dare people to leave the theater not humming one of the songs.”