Actresses Megan Mullally (Will & Grace) and Stephanie Hunt (Friday Night Lights) have built a friendship out of shared interests; both are triple-threat singers and dancers with a flair for the subversively comedic. For the past four years, the pair has been performing music together at cabarets and theaters across the country as the “punk-vaudeville” duo Nancy And Beth.
Mullally, once a student at New York’s School of American Ballet, provides all of the stagecraft for the duo’s extremely animated performances. “The onstage movement with the songs is rehearsed down to the last finger. I’m very specific about my choreography,” says Mullally. Hunt quickly interjects, “Our between-song conversation and banter is not scripted, though. It’s very freewheeling.”
“Oh, sure,” Mullally responds, “that’s the fun part of the show: seeing what comes out of our mouths…both for us and for the audience! ‘Come see us unravel!’” “She’s kidding,” promises Hunt. “I might be,” Mullally says coyly.
When they’re not on tour, Mullally spends most of her time in and around L.A. and Hunt is a born-and-bred Texan, but we’re willing to make a rare exception for these two as honorary People Who Make New York Special…at least for the length of their two-week run, beginning tonight, at Café Carlyle. We recently spoke with them about how they choose their songs, why the Carlyle is special to Mullally, and a very special and unlikely promotional sponsorship.
What Should We Do: What can you tell me about the Nancy And Beth characters?
Megan Mullally: There’s a little bit of an Andy Kaufman–esque experimental element to Nancy And Beth, but we’re still us when we play [them]; it’s not like we change into different people. At the same time, we do have a coexisting backstory in place for our singers, just to keep it interesting. There’s a middle-aged folk duo named Jim and Derek that Nancy And Beth are obsessed with; they keep trying unsuccessfully to meet them backstage after their sets. So you might get a few updates on Jim and Derek’s career at our show.
WSWD: Your music selection is all over the place; you’ve covered tracks written by or popularized by Lou Rawls, Rufus Wainwright, Louis Jordan, and the Mills Brothers. What makes a song a Nancy And Beth song?
Stephanie Hunt: Great lyrics and great melodies. Plus we have to be able to add movement to it. When you get these pieces on their feet and Megan adds choreography, they take on a life of their own. Dance is often what makes or breaks a song for us, but before it even gets to that level, it’s got to give us a feeling. There’s an intuitive freak-out that happens when we both hear a song we both love.
Mullally: Like wide-eyed smiles or we get stunned into silence.
Hunt: You know it when it happens.
Mullally: We have one song that just moves us all over the crowd; that’s “Saved.” That one is a tambourine-shaking free-for-all.
Hunt: Definitely LaVern Baker.
Mullally: That one is Stephanie’s pick.
Hunt: “Saved” was my pump-me-up song to get out of bed and go to class in high school. I wasn’t always so good at that.
We’re not doing a lot of research here. We’re just looking for music that Marie Kondos us: These songs spark our joy.
WSWD: Most of the songs on your self-titled debut album were originally popularized by male singers and are often told—especially in the case of your Gucci Mane cover of “I Don’t Love Her”—from an explicitly male perspective. How much of the comedy and the drama in your performance and recording comes out of playing with gender expectations?
Mullally: I don’t know that we explicitly think about it in those terms; we just don’t bother to change the gender from the version of the song that inspires us. In the case of our song “Please Mr. Jailer,” which we knew from the Wynona Carr single, we weren’t even aware that it was in the John Waters film Cry-Baby until someone told us. We’re not doing a lot of research here. We’re just looking for music that Marie Kondos us: These songs spark our joy.
WSWD: The Carlyle is a storied place; do you have any personal history that makes playing there special for you?
Mullally: When I think of the Carlyle, I think of Elaine Stritch, whom I was very close to and who lived there through the end of her life. She played her last shows on the Café Carlyle stage, so that makes being there extra-cool for me.
WSWD: Megan, you often bring your husband, Nick Offerman, out as a roadie and an MC for these performances; will he be joining you for the Carlyle run?
Mullally: Yes, he’ll be out there almost every night. I think there’s one or two shows that he has other glamorous, cool things he’s got to do in NYC, but mostly he’ll be onstage with us.
When I think of the Carlyle, I think of Elaine Stritch, whom I was very close to and who lived there through the end of her life.
WSWD: You are possibly the only currently recording pop band with a hot tea sponsorship. How did Nancy And Beth Tea come about?
Hunt: I drink a lot of tea! My last two birthday parties have been tea parties. So when Smith Tea reached out to us directly, I may honestly have been the most excited I’ve ever been. We got to design our tea with them and have a cool conversation about what kind of smells we like.
Mullally: Stephanie was the lead flavor lady and then I wrote funny things on the box. Seriously, though, $5 of every sale goes to the Southern Poverty Law Center, so you should get some. SPLC was one of the first charitable concerns I ever contributed to in college, and I’m really proud that this project helps them.
WSWD: You’re on the road until late June and you’ve got a new single out, the Hank Snow country song “I Don’t Hurt Anymore.” When should we expect the new album to come out?
Mullally: Spring 2020. We released our first record in 2018, and it’s still all just about trying to build up our audiences. We’re playing to full houses around the country, so it seems to be working!
Nancy And Beth Starring Megan Mullally and Stephanie Hunt
35 East 76th Street (between Park and Madison Avenues), Upper East Side
Tuesday, May 14—Saturday, May 18 and Tuesday, May 21—Saturday, May 25
Tickets start at $115 ($145 for weekends)
$75 food minimum per seat