Ask Megan Mullally about her two-woman cabaret-ish show Nancy And Beth and you’re unlikely to get a clear answer. The Emmy Award-winning actor (best known as the boozy, bawdy Karen Walker in Will & Grace, and the fearsome ex-wife of Ron Swanson – played by her real-life husband Nick Offerman – in Parks and Recreation) describes it as “celebratory”, “punk vaudeville” and a “travelling tent show”. “There’s no other band we know of to compare it to,” she tells Broadsheet over the phone from New York.
The concept doesn’t reinvent the wheel (Mullally and her on-stage partner, Stephanie Hunt, also an actor, perform an eclectic catalogue of cover songs to choreographed dance routines, backed by a five-piece band) but few shows feature a Rufus Wainwright track alongside rapper Gucci Mane’s I Don’t Love Her (“It’s not for children,” Mullally says of the latter). The pair trot through songs “off the beaten track” from the ’20s up to now. “We do almost every genre, except for full-on opera,” says Mullally. “Songs we wanted to rebirth and show to the world in a new way,” adds Hunt.
The pair has opened for the Pixies and Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant and played iconic stages such as Newport Folk Festival and the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee. When we speak they’re between rehearsals for a show at Lincoln Centre in New York ahead of an Australian tour that will take in Hobart, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Newcastle and Brisbane in June.
As the distinctively shrill Karen Walker, Mullally is famous for her voice, but few know her as a singer. Yet she’s appeared in several Broadway musicals, including a Grease revival, and released three albums with her offbeat cover band Supreme Music Program. The other half of Nancy And Beth (yes, one is Nancy and one is Beth but “nobody on the planet but Stephanie and I know [who is who]”, says Mullally), Hunt, has played in “psych-rock’n’roll bands” around Austin, Texas (“Everybody has a band there,” she says).
The show is propelled by the humour and chemistry between the pair, who met on a film set in 2011. “I had my ukulele with me on set and I asked Megan to sing along with me … and we realised then we had a really great harmony in our voices,” says Hunt.
“Stephanie and I really complement each other,” adds Mullally. “It’s something I can’t quite put my finger on, which unfortunately isn’t great for journalistic purposes … we’re really in sync. We’re totally like psychic twins … you know, we have the same taste, we have the same world view, we respond to the same things at the same level of excitement. So when we’re together it’s almost like two little girls playing.”
The concept for Nancy And Beth was a “slow simmer”, says Mullally. “We didn’t sit down and go, ‘Okay we’re going to start a band it’s going to be great, it’s going to be big, I tell you! Big, big, big!’ It all unfolded one step at a time in a really natural way.
“Every song we’re singing we love, every piece of choreography we think is just right and entertaining for the audience. I think that translates. Our innate joy in doing it is pervasive and audiences respond to that right away.”
By no coincidence Offerman will be in Australia at the same time, performing his new show All Rise – billed as an evening of “deliberative talking and light dance”. He’s also Mullally and Hunt’s roadie.
“Nick said, ‘Maybe I should do some shows while I’m over there’ because he’s quite the little breadwinner,” says Mullally. “We planned the entire tour so we’re never performing on the same night. We’re going to be together for the whole tour.”
Last year the couple released the New York Times bestseller The Greatest Love Story Ever Told, a book about their marriage that features “secrets of love and life … just little things like that”, says Mullally. So what’s the biggest secret? “We like each other,” says Mullally. “That’s the main thing.”
June 6 – Wrest Point
June 9 & 10 – Adelaide Cabaret Festival, Dunstan Playhouse
June 12 & 13 – Melbourne Recital Centre
June 16 – Sydney Opera House
June 18 – Lizotte’s
June 19 – QPAC