BWW Reviews: Megan Hilty's Voice Soars at Kennedy Center's Intimate Terrace Theatre
For the seventh straight year, the Kennedy Center has brought some of the country's most celebrated musical theatre talents to perform solo cabaret acts in its intimate Terrace Theatre under the auspices of the Barbara Cook's Spotlight. Broadway, television, and film actress and concert performer Megan Hilty proved to be such a popular performer that Kennedy Center added another time slot for her one-night-only cabaret after the first one sold out very quickly. The clamor for tickets was probably for good reason. Those that were lucky enough to obtain tickets were able to see how truly versatile a vocal performer she is and how she can really command a room with just her voice and natural charm.
Backed by Matt Cuson on piano, her husband Brian Gallagher (also a musical theatre performer) on guitar, and Ryan Hoagland on percussion, she offered songs that ranged from ones she sang on the Broadway-inspired NBC television show Smash, several standards, other known musical theatre quantities, and a few selections from her debut pop album. No matter what the style of the music she was vocally stunning and emotionally connected to the lyrics.
Her strong mix/belt was perfectly suited to Shaiman and Wittman's "Movin' The Line" from Smash, which opened the show and immediately drew the audience in. I was one of those that religiously watched Smash - no matter how ridiculous the storylines got - just to hear all of the original music that Shaiman and Wittman, Pasek and Paul, Joe Iconis, and others wrote for it. This number was one of my favorites from the short-lived series and it is even more thrilling live. She followed that selection up later with the more contemplative and tender emotional number about Marilyn Monroe's childhood, "Second Hand White Baby Grand." Both selections made me miss hearing the new music on television every week, but grateful that the songs have been recorded and Megan Hilty and others continue to sing them in concerts/cabarets.
Other standouts included an acoustic version of Menken and Ashman's "Suddenly Seymour" from Little Shop of Horrors with husband Brian Gallagher as a duet partner. Ms. Hilty explained that she was cast as Audrey in the national tour of Little Shop of Horrors just before she graduated from college, but was let go when Broadway star Anthony Rapp was cast as Seymour because they didn't look right together. Obviously thrilled at the chance to sing the iconic song, her and Gallagher's vocals nicely complemented each other despite their very different qualities (his is much more pop-rock). I appreciated the fresh guitar-driven arrangement as well because it made the song much more contemporary.
Whether taking on a Gershwin classic like "Someone to Watch Over Me," or classics known for being sung by some of America's great, late singer/actresses - "The Man that Got Away" and an arrangement of "Autumn Leaves/When October Goes," which she originally sang with the National Symphony Orchestra at her symphony concert debut - her classic/timeless vocals were exceedingly pleasing to hear. Not every young Broadway performer can give convincing performances of this kind of material, but Megan is one of the few that can pull them off alongside much more contemporary material. She made them sound like they were written for her in mind, which is no small feat.
Even though the selections she shared from her debut pop album, It Happens All the Time, weren't necessarily as lyrically or melodically interesting as the other songs she performed, her slow cover of "Lonesome" and take on the original song "Be a Man" were notable because they highlighted her ability to take on not only musical theatre numbers and standards - which everyone knows she can sing really well - but also do justice to pop music. Whatever I thought of the material, they were sung appropriately softly and beautifully. The breaks in her voice during "Lonesome" were especially effective.
Her Broadway-caliber musical comedy skills were also put to good use on Stephen Schwartz's "Popular" (from Wicked) and Styne and Robin's "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Hilty - who made her Broadway debut as Glinda in Wicked after Kristin Chenoweth left the role - still gives one of the most memorable and comedic performances of "Popular" that's not a copycat of the original. Her performance of this song at the Kennedy Center proves she can still do it with the best of them and make me giggle even though I've heard the song more times than I can count. I had a chance to see Ms. Hilty in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes at New York's City Center a few years ago and was wowed by her performance. Her rendition of one of the most recognizable numbers from that show got numerous laughs from the appreciative crowd at Kennedy Center and for good reason.
I truly hope she returns to the Broadway stage soon. Broadway needs her, but I am grateful she returned to the Kennedy Center.
Megan Hilty's cabaret performances at Kennedy Center took place on May 2, 2014 and were the last installment of the Spotlight series for the 2013-2014 season. For tickets to upcoming Barbara Cook's Spotlight cabarets in the 2014-2015 season, see the Kennedy Center website. The first performer will be Faith Prince in October 2014.
Photo courtesy of Kennedy Center Press Office.