Megan Hilty seems to be an upbeat person, but her mood quickly grows somber when the subject turns to “Smash,’’ the NBC drama in which Hilty starred before it was canceled after just two seasons in 2013.
Her dynamic performance as Ivy Lynn, one of two actresses vying for the lead role in a fictional Broadway musical about Marilyn Monroe, opened a lot of doors for her. However, the memory of the ridicule heaped on “Smash’’ by the Broadway community — a community of which Hilty is a part — still stings.
Hilty, 36, will appear on July 31 with host and pianist Seth Rudetsky at the Cotuit Center for the Arts, and again with Rudetsky on Aug. 6 at the Town Hall in Provincetown. In an interview with the Globe, Hilty spoke candidly about “Smash,’’ the pressure of making her Broadway debut in “Wicked’’ more than a decade ago, and why she abandoned plans for a career in opera.
Q. Was musical theater your interest from the beginning?
A. It started out with a very eclectic group of types of music that I listened to. Whitney Houston, Dolly Parton, Ella Fitzgerald, recordings of “The Music Man.’’ When I started voice lessons, my voice teacher started training me classically. That’s what started my obsession with opera. That’s where I thought I was going, but it didn’t turn out that way.
Q. What happened?
A. I went to opera camp when I was 16. I loved it, but something one of the guest speakers said made me think twice. She said we weren’t going to work until our mid-30s because that’s when women’s voices reach their maturity. I was like, “Hold on. I would kind of like to be working sooner than that.’’
Q. You made your Broadway debut as Glinda in “Wicked,’’ when memories were still so fresh of Kristin Chenoweth’s performance in that role. Can you describe the pressure you felt back then?
A. It was horrifying. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. Audiences were coming expecting Kristin Chenoweth, and I am not Kristin Chenoweth. It was really scary. But it was also one of the best learning experiences in how to take a role that somebody else has made iconic and pay homage but also bring yourself to the role. And some people are not going to like it. But it has to be OK.
Q. You seem to be building a career that’s a medley of stage, TV, movies, concerts, and albums. How hard is it sustaining a balance among all those forms and platforms?
A. It’s incredibly hard, but that’s how I like it. I would have it no other way. A long time ago I started asking myself what kind of career I wanted to have instead of just going job to job. And I thought of the people I really admire — Bernadette Peters and Audra McDonald — and what they did. It seems like the key to longevity in this business is to be in as many mediums as possible. Not only does it create more job opportunities but it is also more artistically fulfilling to keep pushing yourself into areas where you’re not comfortable.
Q. Which medium do you find most challenging?
A. Concerts are the most scary because I’m not playing a character. It’s just me. If people don’t like those concerts, they don’t like me. These concerts are a way to see an artist in the most intimate way possible, without any role. Now it’s the most fun; now I look at it a different way. I get to be me. I get to say exactly what I want to say, and have a relationship with the audience.
Q. Though your own performance in “Smash’’ drew some favorable notices, the show itself became sort of a punching bag on Broadway. Why do you think that was?
A. I don’t know. It’s something that made me really sad. Here comes a show on national television that’s celebrating our community — not only celebrating our community but hiring people from our community. The fact that people just got so up in arms about things like “Oh, that would never happen on Broadway’’ — well, we’re not doing a documentary. I can’t imagine that doctors sit around getting upset about things that happen on “ER’’ or “Grey’s Anatomy.’’ It’s a television show that brought a little bit of Broadway into people’s homes. It made me really sad to see that the Broadway community had such a hard time with it.
Q. When a producer approaches you about a new project, what does it take to get you to say “Yes’’ at this point in your career? What do you look for in a project?
A. That implies that I have control over my career. I audition for things like everybody else. It’s not like I have producers banging down my door, trying to talk me into things. I have great auditions and meetings and stuff. The only thing that makes me selective about what I do now is my kids, and what I think would make them proud of me for doing. I think about the content of what I’m putting out there.
Q. Some people argue that performing in musicals is the most challenging form of performance, because you have to sing, act, and dance. What’s your feeling about that?
A. Performing on Broadway is the hardest job imaginable. Really, it’s a 24-hour job. You’re normally working all day, in a workshop or a reading or an audition, then performing at night. Our real job is to look for the next job. The stamina that you have to have as a Broadway performer is absolutely insane. The physical toll, it’s unlike anything else. I’ll be on a [TV or movie] set for a crazy, 16-hour day or something like that, and it’s still nothing like Broadway.
With Seth Rudetsky
Interview was edited and condensed. Don Aucoin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.