For Megan Hilty, the all-or-nothing world of show business hit some extremes.
The Covid shutdown lingered. There were no Broadway shows, no on-camera roles. “To have that taken away was a shock,” she said.
But then there was one busy stretch, a year ago. First, she was hurriedly added to NBC’s “Annie Live,” replacing Jane Krakowski, who had Covid. Two weeks after that, she was in Salt Lake City, surrounded by the 300-voice Tabernacle Choir (formerly Mormon Tabernacle Choir). “It is enormous,” she recalled in a virtual press conference. “It’s almost like bathing in sound.”
That Christmas concert (shown here) will air at 8 p.m. Tuesday (Dec. 13) on PBS and 8 p.m. ET Dec. 18 on BYU-TV. It almost didn’t happen.
The pattern had been in place for decades: Each December, a Tabernacle Square concert draws 20,000 people a night, for three nights; it’s telecast a year later. Then came the Covid disruptions:
— In 2020, there was no concert. For the 2021 telecast, a special was cobbled together, with pieces of the previous 20 shows.
— No one was sure there would be a 2021 concert (for the 2022 telecast). The final go-ahead didn’t come until the second week of October, said music director Mack Wilberg. “Usually, we’ve been working on that for many months by then.”
He went with familiar stars. The soloist was Hilty; the narrator was Neil McDonough, possibly the only Hollywood star who can casually mention being a devout Catholic AND having read most of the Book of Mormon. The event, he said, is a chance “to bridge the Irish Catholic faith and the Mormon faith.”
His parents were Irish immigrants; Hilty is partly Irish, married to someone (actor Brian Gallagher) who is thoroughly so. That became a theme for some of the music and narration.
Both stars are big on the holiday. When Hilty tells the audience that she and her husband put up their decorations on their wedding-anniversary day each November, viewers might assume it’s Nov. 29 or 30. Actually, it’s Nov. 2. “They’re up for two months.,” she said in the press conference.
McDonough is also big on the holiday, along with his wife and five children. That contrasts with his villain roles, from a drug kingpin on “Justified” to the menacing Damien Darkh in 45 episodes of three TV shows. Those come partly, he said, because his devout beliefs limit his roles. “I won’t do kissing scenes, so I have to be the greatest villain.”
Now he and Hilty are part of a crowd. There are 500 people onstage, Wilberg said, including the choir, orchestra and bell-ringers. “With the exception of about four people, everyone we see is a volunteer.”
Each was tested for Covid before every rehearsal and things moved quickly. For Hilty, that’s familiar turf. “I’m used to being thrown onstage with little or no advance notice,” she said.
Fresh from college, she became the “Wicked” stand-by, stepping in as Glinda. She was promoted into the role, which she did for a year on Broadway … then on tour … then again in Los Angeles.
Hilty starred twice more on Broadway, in a musical (“9 to 5”) and a comedy (“Noises Off”). She got a Tony nomination for the comedy co-starred in NBC’s “Smash,” did some more TV … and then saw everything disappear during the pandemic.
Except for that one stretch. On Dec. 2, 2021, she was a scheming, dim-witted con woman in “Annie.” Two weeks later, she was singing of faith and joy. Her all-or-nothing career had switched into “all.”