Getting people to pay attention to your band is an uphill effort, even if you’re as famous as actress-singer Megan Mullally. Nancy and Beth, the roots-rockin’ band Mullally fronts with fellow actress Stephanie Hunt, plays the Wilbur Theatre Sunday. The Wilbur website originally listed the evening’s entertainment as Nancy and Beth, but switched the billing to “An Evening w/ Megan Mullally and her band” when ticket sales were slow. “People were like, Nancy and who? What?” Mullally says, speaking by phone. “So we had to change it to me, hoping that at least a few people would recognize my name.”
Mullally, best known for playing the martini-tippling, acid-tongued Karen Walker on “Will & Grace,” is balancing the band with a new show she just sold to IFC; film work; her role on Adult Swim’s “Children’s Hospital,” which just won an Emmy Award; and a bevy of recurring roles on TV shows including “Parks and Recreation,” on which she plays the ex-wife of her real-life husband, Nick Offerman.
Nancy and Beth is “brand new, so we’ve really never played outside of Los Angeles other than opening for my husband Nick’s [live solo] show, ‘American Ham.’ We opened for him in Chicago. Where else did we open for him? San Francisco?” Mullally guesses. “But this is our first, you know, venture out into the world on our own.” If necessary, Mullally promises, she and Hunt will pound the pavement outside the Wilbur to sell tickets. “There’s a very good chance that we’ll be standing outside of the theater wearing sandwich boards and playing the ukulele,” she says.
Q. You’d had this act for less than three months before you started playing some high-profile gigs. Is that even enough time to know what this act is or what you’ve got?
A. Yeah, yeah. The band is very secure with our identity. I’m not sure why. It just sort of came together in a nice, easy way. And Stephanie and I sort of have, we have such an affinity for one another musically that there’s never been a question, and I feel like our song selection is very fresh and new and fun, and the band overall has a kind of celebratory feel. We just actually played in Australia. I was there doing some piano-only concerts and Nick wasn’t able to go with me, so Stephanie came with me. We had five really great shows there, and at each show, Stephanie got up and we did a song and people really responded well.
Q. What was a moment, if there was one particular moment, where you bonded musically and knew that you had to do something together?
A. We were in Austin [Texas] doing an indie movie called “Somebody Up There Likes Me,” which Nick coproduced and stars in and Stephanie has a good supporting role in and I have a little teeny cameo. Stephanie and I had been hanging out because she and I had some days off. The minute we started singing together we just looked at each other and we were like, Oh, wait, OK. It was our voices together. Our voices are kind of like one voice. And we never have had to discuss our harmonies, and we sort of stand in front of the bathroom mirror and do choreography, and then we go into the closet and play dress-up like little kids. It’s really fun. I do the majority of the choreography just because I’ve had a lot of experience in that realm, and Stephanie picks it up very quickly.
‘I love the band. I believe in the band. It’s a new venture. And trying to get it out there and sell it is a whole different deal. I love a challenge.’
Q. Would you describe this as a musical act with occasional comedy?
A. I think that’s a good way of putting it. We have a set that varies from gig to gig — I hate saying “gig,” but there you have it. Show to show. Our set list might vary, but there’s a common thread — there’s a celebratory feel to the band that I think runs through every show. Whatever is said between songs is very impromptu, and that makes each show very different from the next, because we go off on slight tangents in between songs. I think there’s comedy there, but I also think there’s comedy built into some of the songs.
Q. It’s a lot of stuff from the ’30s and ’40s that a general audience might not know.
A. And we have a lot of songs from the ’50s, too. I would say we’re a little ’50s-heavy. We go all the way up to the present, and we do a couple of White Stripes songs and a song by Dustin Kensrue. We do some really up-to-the-minute stuff, but we do primarily older. And it’s just a huge, eclectic variety of things. Every once in a while there’s a beautiful ballad that might bring a tear to an eye, but a lot of the songs are fun up-tempos, and they’re all choreographed.
Q. So why Nancy and Beth?
A. I had come up with a list of probably 40 different possible names for the band, and that was really my secret favorite. It was the only one really like that. Everything else was like, “The somethings,” or more typical. And I sent the list blind to Stephanie without saying which ones I preferred, and she e-mailed back “Nancy and Beth.” I love the name Nancy and Beth. It’s just fun. We do not reveal who is Nancy and who is Beth.
Q. Is there actually a designation?
A. Yes. [laughs]
Q. After all your success, from “Will & Grace” on up, now you’re a touring band and have to start at square one.
A. Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Totally struggling to sell tickets in Alexandria [Va.] and Boston. It doesn’t matter that I was on “Will & Grace” or anything else, because this is a whole other venture. And I’m not on a hot show right now. So I’m not really on the radar as I have been in the past. So that’s fine with me.
Q. What do you get out of this that you don’t get out of film or TV?
A. It’s just pure joy. It really is. And Stephanie and I have a weird — other people have said that we, it’s like a one-brain situation. And I don’t know why that is, and it hasn’t happened to me very often in my professional life. And I’d say it’s happened maybe one or two other times. But I’d say for other people to pick up on it as quickly as they do is interesting. I had that with Sean Hayes on “Will & Grace.” It’s a nonverbal communication where we just sort of know what the other is going to do and we play off of that, and we can play off each other’s comedy, or in this case, vocals, without having to discuss it.
Q. Do the two of you write any originals for Nancy and Beth?
A. We’ve been talking about doing that. Probably when we get ready to record we will. We’ll probably write two or three for the record.
Q. And the record is definitely in the pipeline?
A. I would say it’s sitting in a box close to the mouth of the pipeline. Right now, we’re just trying to do as many live shows as we can, and then in the fall, we’re going to record. We want to get the right producer. I love the band. I believe in the band. It’s a new venture. And trying to get it out there and sell it is a whole different deal. I love a challenge.
Q. Everything else that you’re in, somebody else takes over the PR once you’re done with your work.
A. Oh, yeah. I’m hustling.Interview was edited and condensed. Nick A. Zaino III can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.