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Supreme being Emmy-winning Mullally brings Music Program to UB Center for Arts

By now, no one would be surprised to know that the high-pitched squeal of Manhattan socialite Karen Walker sounds nothing like that of the actress who plays her. Megan Mullally, whose Emmy and Screen Actor's Guild Award-winning portrayal of Ms. Walker is one-fourth the comic ammunition of "Will and Grace," is far more subdued and comfortable in her smoky Oklahoman alto drawl.

But it's not her speaking voice the down-to-earth actress wants audiences to take notice of these days; it's her singing voice. As vocalist of the Supreme Music Program, which comes to the University at Buffalo Center for the Arts on Saturday night, Mullally traverses more terrain with her voice box than Karen could in her five-inch stilettos.

"We do everything," Mullally said in a phone interview from the "Will and Grace" set. "We do jazz, blues, rock, pop, country, folk, traditional, everything. We've done a couple of songs from the Victorian period, a couple of art songs, some [Bertolt] Brecht and [Kurt] Weill. The only person I'm not into is, you know, Britney."

(Spears, that is, the maternal girl who coincidentally will be guest starring on the sitcom in April, it was recently announced.)

Musically speaking, Mullally isn't a stranger altogether to the microphone. In the '90s, she appeared in two successful Broadway revivals, "Grease" featuring Rosie O'Donnell and "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" starring Matthew Broderick. Both roles cast the actress as more bubbly versions of herself.

That typecasting, which led comfortably to her role as Karen Walker, stays with the singer in her work with the Supreme Music Program.

"People think they're coming to see Karen Walker sitting on a pink poof drinking a martini," she said. "And then I think after the first few minutes, people are like, 'Oh, I like this, too.' " The band got its start rather unceremoniously, and before the lead singer achieved household-name status.

"Right before 'Will and Grace,' I was experimenting with some different songs and music, doing vocal arrangements, and I decided to do a stage show that would be all kinds of music. I needed to put together a little band, and I wanted the show to be me and this band," she said. Leading the group vocally as well as artistically, Mullally is the self-described "spearheader" of the musical avenues taken.

"I'll do the general arrangements, but I don't read music," she said. "We just come up with arrangements collectively. Each song has to be a story song and a lot of them have a really strong point of view, where the lyrics are visual and there's conversation."

As with the tracks on the band's most recent release, 2002's "Big as a Berry," the group's repertoire spans a vast array of genres, but all hearken back to a style and mood that is anything but showy.

"It's so not Hollywood, it's our own little thing," she said.

Mullally has another side project in the works: a daytime talk show. The still-untitled gabfest, scheduled to launch this fall, will follow a format more akin to Merv Griffin and former co-star O'Donnell than that of Oprah or Ellen DeGeneres.

"I want the show to be tailored to the guests," she said.

Celebrity guests are commonplace on the set of "Will and Grace," now in its eighth and final season. The show's final months are bittersweet, no doubt, but as dwindling audiences can surely attest to, it's time. "I think that the show could have gone a little longer, but at the same time it also felt like it was the right time to wrap up," Mullally said.

For the multi-pronged performer, it seems there's little she can't tackle. As audiences will experience Saturday night, there's more to this lady than Cosmos and Cartier.

"I love 'Will and Grace,' but I'm just a cog in the machine, which is fine," Mullally said. "I'm not writing or dictating it. I'm just responsible for my own line readings and my character. When you have something like the band, it's so different, because it's coming from me and what I am excited about and am interested in."


WHO: Megan Mullally and Supreme Music Program

WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Mainstage Theatre, UB Center for the Arts, North Campus, Amherst

TICKETS: $25 to $45


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