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‘Will & Grace’ is finally back after 11 years, and so is Karen!
USA TODAY

BURBANK, Calif. — The truth is, Megan Mullally was never ready to leave Karen Walker behind.

Even after NBC’s Will & Grace exited in 2006, Karen’s nasal, martini-infused tenor “never went away,” the actress says. “It was always just right there.”

A decade ago, Mullally hatched a new plan for the blissfully out-of-touch character who had earned her seven Emmy nominations and two wins. The idea was Karen: The Musical, an R-rated Broadway show skewering the concept of actors who want to flee the one role they’ve become synonymous with playing. 

“Usually when people do a sitcom and they become, like, Jethro from The Beverly Hillbillies, then they spend their entire rest of their careers desperately trying to distance themselves from that character. And I thought, how funny would it be to just keep doing it?” she says. “That’s the thing that nobody’s ever done.”

More: ‘Will & Grace’ is back: A decade later, what’s changed?

Several songs were written, Fox Theatricals signed on to produce and a director, Casey Nicholaw (who went on to do The Book of Mormon), was signed, Mullally says. But then Will & Grace creators Max Mutchnick and David Kohan had second thoughts.

“At the last minute, Max and David actually changed their minds about letting me use the rights to the character,” she says.

How long did it take for it to be water under the bridge? She sighs. “I wasn’t thrilled about it. We had an email exchange in which they gave me written permission. And the way that they let me know was they didn’t contact me personally, they did it through their lawyer. And I was really creeped out by that.”

Review: After a shaky start, ‘Will & Grace’ finds its groove again

Mutchnick and Kohan had no comment when USA TODAY reached out to confirm details of the approval process for the musical.

Karen: The Musical bubbles up several times during a dressing room chat, but Mullally says it’s all to say that Karen has never been in her rearview mirror, describing her relationships with the creators and cast “sort of like brother and sister or family.” 

That’s the vibe on set. During USA TODAY’s recent set visit, the Fab Four laughed and played as they workshopped a Karen-centric episode. Separately, Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, Sean Hayes and…