BWW Review: Megan Hilty Spreads Christmas Cheer at Kennedy Center
This week, Tony Award nominee Megan Hilty returned to the Kennedy Center as part of Renée Fleming's new concert series, VOICES. Ms. Hilty, best known for her multiple roles on Broadway and the short-lived television show Smash, last performed at the nation's venerable arts institution in 2014 in a solo Christmas cabaret. As with her last visit, her incredibly strong and versatile voice and winning charm won over the appreciative audience.
Combining a few musical theatre selections with holiday tunes like "Jingle Bells" - many of which appear on her recently released Christmas album - her varied set offered a little something for everyone, including those who have followed her career since her Broadway debut in Wicked. While every number was a highlight, a few proved the most memorable.
Whether performing "Popular" (from Wicked) in a Glinda-esque way, joining her husband/guitarist Brian Gallagher on an unexpected duet on "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer/Blue Christmas," performing "Santa Baby," Hilty demonstrated a knack for humor. Her cute personality shined through as she nonchalantly shared anecdotes about her life in between songs.
An emotional yet technically flawless rendition of Alan Menken and Lynn Ahrens' "A Place Called Home" (from the 1994 stage musical, A Christmas Carol) followed a heartfelt explanation of how the definition of home has changed for her since she married and started a family (she's currently six months pregnant with her second child). Hilty demonstrated that she is a song interpretation expert personified on Joni Mitchell's "River" and an arrangement of "There's Always Tomorrow" and "The Rainbow Connection" (sung and videotaped for her unborn child). She can sing anything and it's always believable. It's one thing to be an exceptionally versatile vocalist - which she most definitely is - but it's another thing entirely to have the ability to dig deep into the personal meaning of any lyric.
An interesting arrangement of "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" and "Skating" was most memorable, not only for her strong vocals, but also for the musical creativity. Hilty credited her bass player Dennis Michael Keefe with the idea to put the two songs together. It really worked well. With this number and others, it became clear that a Megan Hilty concert is not just about Megan Hilty. She generously shares the stage with her equally talented four-piece band led by Music Director Matt Cusson on piano. Cusson - also a strong vocalist - and Hilty performed the enormously popular tune "Baby, it's Cold Outside" (with some amusing interjections from Gallagher) as well as "That's Life," a song Megan performed on Smash. While their vocal tone and stylistic choices couldn't be more different from one another, they are pure magic when they sing together.
Other favorites included Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman's "Second Hand White Baby Grand" and "Don't Forget Me/Let Me Be Your Star" from Smash. Shaiman and Wittman wrote some of their best songs to date for that television show and nothing compares to hearing Megan sing them. Her full-bodied voice, beautiful tone, and enviable range make them even more special along with her obvious connection to the lyrics.
A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS WITH Megan Hilty was one of my favorite cabaret/concert experiences this year. It's always a treat to hear her sing. She's in her own class as a vocalist and I look forward to what she does next.
Megan Hilty performed three shows at the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington, DC on December 8 and 9, 2016. The next musical theatre-oriented offering in Renée Fleming's VOICES series is Leslie Odom Jr. (of Hamilton fame) on March 11, 2017.
Photo Credit: Nathan Johnson