When Megan Mullally and Stephanie Hunt released their debut album as the Americana duo Nancy and Beth last year, they made sure to take their show on the road, delivering not just the cover songs like "He Stopped Loving Her Today" and "Please Mr. Jailer" that made up the album, but some quirky choreography as well. Think everything from Fosse-like chair numbers to yoga-esque backbends.
By tour's end, including a stop at the Newport Folk Festival, the singer-actresses' chemistry together was palpable, not just to the audiences they entertained, but to each other. To Mullally, who reprised her role as boozy, batty Karen Walker in the fall revival of Will & Grace, Nancy and Beth transcended the idea of a duo.
"I like the term 'buddy act,' because it is a buddy act," says Mullally. "When I was growing up in Oklahoma City, my father used to watch Laurel and Hardy a lot and laugh really hard. I don't know if I ever really got it, but I was fascinated by them and their dynamic."
"There is something magical about having someone to bounce ideas off. It ensures you're going to evolve quicker," Hunt says.
"Now," deadpans Mullally, "we only operate in nods and grunts."
Ahead of the buddies' new tour, which includes a five-night residency at New York City's Carlyle Hotel and a return to Nashville's Grand Ole Opry (they made their Opry debut last July), we talked to Mullally and Hunt about their dancing, their handyman roadie and the wisdom they gleaned from Opry star Jeannie Seely.
The Nancy and Beth experience is just as much about the dancing as it is the songs. Where'd the idea for the choreography come from?
Megan Mullally: Stephanie and I were singing songs together, and it started out pretty chill, like Americana and country, sharing a microphone. But we did this old York Brothers song called "Tremblin'." It's a real toe-tapper. I got the idea, "What if we trembled a little bit on certain parts of the song?" and I did some stuff in front of the mirror in the hotel room and the next day I showed Stephanie. Once we did that, the floodgates opened and we realized the audiences really liked it.
Stephanie Hunt: It's not normal dance moves by any means. It's more like this subconscious other form that Megan tapped into. They give each of the songs a whole other spin.
You're hitting the road again in April. At what point in the show does the audience commit to you as Nancy and Beth and not as Megan Mullally and Stephanie Hunt?
Mullally: I would say right at the beginning. You would think there'd be a three-song "getting past it" interval, but people are pulled right in.
Hunt: We are dressed alike and the band is dressed alike, so it's a show. Sometimes we call it "punk vaudeville." It's like a traveling tent show. Instead of a tour bus, this time we may get a horse and wagon.
You're returning to the Grand Ole Opry in June. What stood out to you about the first time you sang on that stage?
Mullally: The sheer magic. But also Jeannie Seely, who signed a copy of her book Pieces of a Puzzled Mind. It has little sayings like, "It's a good thing I fall in love every six months – it reminds me to get my teeth cleaned." It's gotten me through some hard times.
We understand that Megan's husband, Nick Offerman, is the band's roadie?
Mullally: Yeah, he was trying to weasel his way around it this time, and I was like, "I don't think so." We have to have two vehicles and he's one of our transpo guys.
Hunt: He's even done some sewing. He sewed a Velcro patch on my pants.
Mullally: But not while she was wearing it. We had gotten these new mic packs before the show and we had to Velcro the pack to our pants. But Stephanie's patch was in the wrong place and had to be moved. Nick flew into action and found some needle and thread. It's not easy to sew through Velcro. He comes in real handy.
He had quite an eye-popping nude scene on the Will & Grace revival.
Mullally: They weren't going to have him be naked. They were just going to put him in pajama bottoms. I said, "You guys, he'd get naked for a baked potato."
Here are Nancy and Beth's announced tour dates:
April 15 - Los Angeles, CA @ Largo
April 19 - Minneapolis, MN @ Cedar Cultural Center
April 20 - Chicago, IL @ Old Town School of Folk
April 22 - Cincinnati, OH @ The Ballroom at Taft Theatre
April 23 - Ann Arbor, MI @ The Ark
April 24 - Indianapolis, IN @ Cabaret
April 26 - Bay Shore, NY @ The Boulton Center
April 29 -Washington, DC @ Sixth & I
May 1-5 - New York, NY @ Café Carlyle
June 15 - Nashville, TN @ City Winery
June 16 - Nashville, TN @ Grand Ole Opry