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Originally published January 29, 2012 at 5:18 AM | Page modified January 30, 2012 at 2:09 PM

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'Smash's' Megan Hilty 'obsessed' with singing

An interview with the Bellevue-born star of NBC's upcoming backstage-musical series, "Smash." Megan Hilty attended Sammamish High School and went on to play Glinda on Broadway in "Wicked."

Special to The Seattle Times

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PASADENA, Calif. — Growing up in Bellevue, Megan Hilty knew from a young age she wanted a career in the spotlight.

"I decided I was going to be an opera star. I was about 12," she recalled, noting her first stage role was Bet in a Catholic-school program her great aunt signed her up for. "I had one line: 'Nancy, he killed Nancy!' and I had to kiss a boy on the cheek and it was scandalous."

Hilty, 30, may get into more scandalous situations as Ivy, the desperate-for-success rising Broadway star in NBC's "Smash." Ivy is one of two actresses — the other, a less experienced and more naive ingénue, is played by "American Idol" vet Katharine McPhee — up for the leading role in a Broadway musical about the life of Marilyn Monroe.

"Smash" premieres Feb. 6 after a guaranteed promotional blitz during NBC's Super Bowl telecast. The first season will take viewers behind the scenes of the making of the Broadway musical, from first auditions to an out-of-town tryout.

"When I first read the script, I was like, this is genius," Hilty recalled during a day of interviews to promote "Smash." "Not only is it my world on TV but I would get to represent a community I adore."

Hilty's path to Broadway began with roles in community theater productions and parts in Gilbert & Sullivan productions at the Bellevue Opera. She was obsessed with singing from a young age, she said.

"I always wanted my mom to sing to me, but she read this article that said tone-deaf mothers should not sing to their children. I'm sure that's not true, but she was deathly afraid so she would play me recordings," Hilty said. "I grew up listening to the Manhattan Transfer and 'The Music Man' and all kinds of stuff."

Her parents, Jack and Donna Hilty, still live in the Seattle area, where Megan attended Sammamish High School before transferring to the now-defunct Washington Academy of Performing Arts in Redmond and later the Chrysalis School in Woodinville.

After graduating from Carnegie Mellon University, Hilty made her Broadway debut in "Wicked," playing Glinda, a role she also performed on a "Wicked" national tour and in Los Angeles. She played the Dolly Parton role in the Broadway musical version of the movie "9 to 5" and gave singing voice to Snow White in "Shrek the Third."

During her Los Angeles "Wicked" stint, Hilty said she found herself interested in being on TV for the first time.

"When I went back to New York, I started realizing that the key to longevity in this business is to keep yourself diverse and do as many things as possible and keep yourself relevant because they all feed into one another," she said. "And let's face it, a lot of shows need a recognizable name whether it works or not; that's kind of the formula. I could sit around and cry about losing jobs because I'm not a TV star or I could go and take something into my own hands and try to make it in this world, too."

Series creator Theresa Rebeck said Hilty was always at the top of producers' wish list for the Ivy role in "Smash" — NBC Entertainment president Robert Greenblatt worked with Hilty when he produced "9 to 5" on Broadway — but then they heard she might get offered several other parts.

"We went, 'We've got to have her,' and we offered it to her," Rebeck said. "Megan is a great actress who can pretty much do anything, and it became really exciting to think of the range of events you could put Ivy through. We're really going to send her down a rabbit hole of showbiz nightmares. Megan is such a strong presence and talent and has such an open heart you can actually see her go through terrible things and still go with her."

In "Smash," Ivy is a seasoned ensemble performer pursuing stardom, but she can't quite seem to escape the chorus. Clearly that hasn't been an issue for Hilty, but she can identify with her character's journey all the same.

"We both eat, sleep and breathe theater," she said. "And I think everybody knows what it feels like to be stuck in your job. You don't have to be in this business. It's just dying to take the next step. I don't know if I would conduct myself in the way Ivy would necessarily or make the same choices. She's in a different spot. But I really love this character with so many fantastic dimensions to her, and I feel so lucky to get to play with that every day."

Rob Owen: or on Facebook and Twitter as RobOwenTV.

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