Megan Mullally and Stephanie Hunt’s Choreographed Antics Are Giving Cabaret a Jolt

Megan Mullally and Stephanie Hunt’s Choreographed Antics Are Giving Cabaret a Jolt


Nancy and Beth could not wait to go back to Long Island: When the alt-cabaret band last played Bay Shore, a fistfight erupted in the audience.

“It was wine-induced,” said Stephanie Hunt, 29, who fronts Nancy and Beth with the “Will & Grace” star Megan Mullally. “One of them screamed, ‘I’m a married woman!’”

Mullally, 60, said the duo was “so excited” backstage after the fracas. “We were like, ‘It’s official, we’re punk.’” She paused, as if struck by inspiration. “I swear to God, I’m thinking of crowd-surfing tonight.”

The women were on the way to the Boulton Center for their grand return to Bay Shore, chatting in the back of a rented Suburban driven by Mullally’s husband, the actor-humorist Nick Offerman. He’s been tagging along on Nancy and Beth’s current tour as roadie, occasional videographer and —

“Masseuse,” Offerman suggested from behind the wheel.

With a set list incorporating P.M. Dawn’s funky “Shake,” Ruth Brown’s bawdy “If I Can’t Sell It, I’ll Keep Sittin’ on It” and the classic George Jones weepie “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” Nancy and Beth’s poker-faced, very funny vaudeville — the act is choreographed, too — bridges the plush cabarets of the traditional American Songbook and a downtown scene where recontextualized interpretations of hits old and new flourish. Reflecting that range, the band has played the Newport Folk Festival, the Grand Ole Opry, “dives that didn’t have a bathroom,” per Mullally, and the posh New York City boîte Café Carlyle, where Nancy and Beth return for a two-week stint starting Tuesday.

Hunt and Mullally met in 2012 on the set of the indie film “Somebody Up There Likes Me,” in Hunt’s hometown Austin, Tex., and quickly discovered they shared an interest in music. In addition to being a show-tune pro whose Broadway credits include “Young Frankenstein,” Mullally headed the combo Supreme Music Program, which released three albums between 1999 and 2007. Hunt’s bass playing helped her get cast in the “Friday Night Lights” series as Devin Boland, a member of the high school metal act Crucifictorious.

As Mullally was about to leave Austin to visit her mother in Oklahoma City, the two women realized one more thing. “Stephanie had brought her ukulele and she told me she wrote songs,” Mullally recalled. “I said, ‘Let’s get in my air-conditioned rental car and I want to hear some of your songs.’ She said there was this one part I had to sing with her. She taught me the part and the minute we heard our voices together …”

The next thing they knew, they were in a band (which includes neither a Nancy nor a Beth). They released a self-titled album two years ago, and have crisscrossed the country, usually backed by a quintet of ace musicians from Los Angeles, Austin and New York that includes the violinist and singer Petra Haden, formerly of the indie rock band That Dog.

Unlike many stage duos, which often rely on the contrast between two starkly different performers, the two women sing and move in unison — a rare exception is their cover of “No Charge,” which George Jones and Tammy Wynette recorded with their daughter Tina in 1975.

“That’s not a conscious thing but it’s magical and represents this idea of the agelessness of music,” Hunt said of the harmonizing. “Even though we have a 30-year age difference, we can be so much the same.”

Mullally said that Hunt cannot be stumped. “If I say something like, ‘There’s this song from 1952 I really like,’ she’ll say, ‘Oh yeah, my parents have that record.’”

Hunt added, “We’re not going to judge a song if it’s new.”

Otherwise we would have missed out on, say, Nancy and Beth’s suave cover of Gucci Mane’s X-rated “I Don’t Love Her,” which underhandedly mocks that 2011 track’s sexism.

The two singers keep what they call “a freakout list” of material they’d like to cover one day — they mentioned the 1981 Laurie Anderson song “From the Air” as a candidate. One consideration is how it would be staged since every number is paired with dance moves that look particularly surreal because the women are mirror images of each other, complete with identical costumes, glasses and hairdos.

“When we got the headset mics, all bets were off,” Mullally said. “Stephanie went from gamely going along to working very hard to get to a point where we are completely in sync.”

While the songs themselves are tightly rehearsed and precisely executed, a Nancy and Beth show does have a loose, lackadaisical feel, thanks to dryly casual stage banter. In Bay Shore, Mullally introduced “Harbor Lights,” made popular by Dinah Washington, by waxing poetic about Beyoncé’s “Homecoming” film, then suggesting to the audience that this was a good opportunity to pleasure each other.

On this tour, Offerman also steps onstage to introduce the band with custom descriptions that incorporate references to the show’s location. At the Boulton, each musician was compared to a specific bagel; for Haden, Offerman concocted a back story involving bad halibut from a Roslyn trattoria.

Nancy and Beth followed that up with an Irving Berlin cover, which somehow made total sense at the time. Mullally did not crowd-surf that evening. But the Café Carlyle crowd may be luckier.



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