Greg Hildreth Celebrates the Second Fiddle at 54 Below
By: Iris Wiener
Always a star but never the leading man, Greg Hildreth has built a formidable career around playing the sidekick. And the best friend. And the supporting player. With his headlining gig at 54 Below Saturday, February 7th at 9:30pm, he is no longer number two. The Cinderella, Peter and the Starcatcher and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson player’s solo debut is aptly titled Second Fiddle, and will feature Hildreth rhapsodizing songs and stories about performing immediately stage left or right of beautiful people.
With special guests such as Celia Keenan-Bolger, Santino Fontana, Christian Borle, Jason Danieley and Kate Baldwin, and a 6-piece band led by Charlie Rosen, the evening is set to be a brilliantly funny love letter to those epic scene-stealers with second billing. Hildreth spoke with Theaterlife.com about developing Second Fiddle and offered advice to his comrades.
Theaterlife.com: How did your first solo gig with 54 Below come to fruition?
Greg Hildreth: 54 Below approached me around Thanksgiving and asked me if I would do something, anything that I wanted to do. My initial reaction was, “Hell, no!” It’s terrifying, which meant that I needed to do it. I guess if I wasn’t worried, the show would be garbage.
TL: Describe the process of creating Second Fiddle.
HildrethI pitched a bunch of ideas, and this is the one that they picked. I was glad because it was my favorite idea. It also allowed for a number of guests who I wanted to be a part of it as well. It allowed me to showcase and tell stories about my career, and also to involve the many friends and people who I consider family to now be a part of this evening. Also, I’ve brought a lot of people on board to help me make it, like Teddy Bergman from Peter and the Starcatcher, who is one of my best friends and a great collaborator. He’s helped me shape the evening. We’ve written minimal banter, but funny banter. I had to keep taking bathroom breaks when we were writing it because we were laughing so hard! I also looped in Charlie Rosen, who I met when we did Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson in Los Angeles. He was a teenager when he was playing in our pit. We’ve been friends for years and he’s come up and made his own. He stayed on my couch for a while when he was moving to New York, so basically he owes me. He’s made all brand new orchestrations and assembled a six piece band. There will be old songs you would know, and some things you probably never heard before, so we’ve got a nice cross section.
TL: What will people be most surprised to learn about you from seeing the show?
Hildreth: (Laughs) I think I’m going to be holding onto a lot of my secrets, but you never know what will come out in the evening. There’s definitely a risk in taking opportunities like this, when you step out to center stage. I’m a person who’s not normally given the opportunity to do that. I’m not complaining, I actually love what I do. The supporting parts are the better parts, as we all know. I might be surprising myself a little bit too, since this was my first time venturing into something like this.
TL: Which cabaret shows have inspired you?
Hildreth: Bridget Everett is a genius. I saw Rock Bottom recently, so she’s on the top of my head. She’s a big influence. I’m not going to be doing anything like her because really, who could? The Skivvies are a huge inspiration too.
TL: It’s a real testament to your character that so many of the leading players from your career will be joining you on stage for Second Fiddle.
Hildreth: The people that are in the show were all my first choice people! I was assuming a lot of them were not going to be able to do it. Much to my joy they all agreed, which I was very excited about. I love them dearly. With people like Ben [Walker], Celia [Keenan-Bolger] and Christian [Borle], we worked on shows over the course of four or five years. You work over the holidays, you work through weekends, you travel around together. These people become your family. They’re some of my best friends. Their supreme talent is a bonus on top of the close friendship I have with them. It’s so moving for all of them to be like, “Sure, we’ll do it!” I feel like I’m getting away with highway robbery.
TL: What tips do you have for other second fiddles out there?
Hildreth: Be persistent. Keep your nose down. Steal things, but not too much. Don’t get in trouble. There’s a really funny line that Carol Channing said once in an interview where they called her the first lady of musical comedy. She said, “I’m not the first lady of musical comedy, all the others just died.” I think in this particular chosen career, persistence is really important. Being second fiddle is also like embracing or highlighting those things that made me strange and odd and weird, or things that people made fun of me for when I was growing up. They’re now the things that people are asking me to do.
TL: About what were you teased when you were growing up?
Hildreth: I was like the kid from Mars. I was very odd and I wasn’t into what everyone else was into. I played sports, but I think even saying that is really generous. I wasn’t an athlete by any stretch of the imagination. I was also a chubby kid; I’m still a chubby kid. Richard Kind actually once said to me, “If you ever lose any weight, you’ll never work.” It’s kind of true. I’m still trying to be a healthy husky. I say to the second fiddles out there: “Stay weird.”
TL: If you could put yourself in any lead role, which would it be?
Hildreth: I’ve always dreamed of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. That’s one I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve wanted to do Waiting for Godot for a really long time too, but I feel like I’m going to have to wait another thirty years for that. I’ve been waiting for Waiting for Godot...
TL: Have you been given any advice about finally being the first fiddle, or the leading man, in your own show?
Hildreth: I bumped into Ellyn Marsh, she is in Kinky Boots. She’s wonderful and really funny, and she just finished her show. I was like, “How was it? Talk to me! Tell me everything!” And she said, “It’s terrifying!” No one has given me any advice that has made me feel any better. I’m going to learn on the fly. I’m planning on having it be a big party!