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RECAP: Wicked Divas Murney & Hilty Rock Cincinnati

This past weekend, Cincinnati had the chance to see two divas for the price of one as Broadway stars Julia Murney and Megan Hilty stepped in to replace Kristin Chenoweth, who was forced to cancel her engagement with the Cincinnati Pops on November 13th, 14th, and 15th, due to illness. Under the direction of Steven Reineke, the format was reworked into an evening in honor of divas from pop music, opera, and Broadway.

Before the last performance on Sunday, I had the privilege of speaking with Julia Murney to gain some insight into the weekend's concert experience. I asked her what it was like to pull the concert together on such short notice and how they approached it.

"Kristin got sick and Wednesday night, Megan and I got a phone call asking if we could come in her place," she told me. "They said they wanted to do a bunch of songs from Wicked and beyond that, we could look through lists of songs that we knew were already set up for symphony and that were in a key we could sing it in and that's how we put it together. It just happened that quickly. So Wednesday night we got the call and Friday night we were doing the concert!"

While it made for a hectic time to pull the concert together, the end result was a satisfying one. The concert began with the Overture to Gypsy, followed by selections from Carmen. Next, Murney and Hilty took the stage and performed a fabulous rendition of "All That Jazz." The duo then took a moment to introduce themselves and ask "What would Kristin do?" and decided she'd change her clothes. It quickly became apparent that not only were Murney and Hilty an amazing talent, but funny and witty as well.

The orchestra picked up with a selection from Ragtime and then Murney returned to the stage (indeed in another stunning dress) with "Back to Before," also from Ragtime, which she followed up with John Kander's "Ring Them Bells." The song, originally written for Liza Minelli, was a great tribute to the diva of the stage, with Murney's own flair added to the mix.

Hilty returned to the stage with "Til There Was You" from The Music Man, which she dedicated to Chenoweth's performance as Marian the Librarian in the 2003 television film, and "I Could Have Danced All Night" from My Fair Lady.

The orchestra opened the second act with highlights from Evita and a selection from Puccini's Gianna Schicci before Hilty returned to the stage with a charming version of "Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid. Hilty shared with the audience that it had always been a lifelong dream to sing that song in front of an audience and she was thrilled to be able to sing.  After the orchestra paid tribute to the pop music divas with "I Will Always Love You," they performed "Over the Rainbow" from The Wizard of Oz which provided a fitting transition into the last half of Act Two, the Wicked portion of the evening.

Murney returned to the stage to introduce the story of Wicked, as she said, "for the seven of you who have never seen it" before belting out "The Wizard and I." Murney left the stage as Hilty returned and Hilty then gave us a taste of her spectacular performance as the perky Glinda the good witch with "Popular." She had fun with the song, bouncing around the stage in full Glinda mode. The duo swapped places again and Murney performed the ever famous "Defying Gravity." Hilty and Murney then closed the Wicked section of the evening with an emotional and heart-wrenching performance of "For Good." As an encore, they performed "I Will Never Leave You" from the musical Side Show, which once again, provided both women with an opportunity to demonstrate their vocal talents.

After seeing the show, I was curious to know how the songs were chosen. "‘I Will Never Leave You' is a song that both Megan and I had done," Murney told me in our phone conversation. "We hadn't done it together, but we thought well okay, we can do that one. And ‘Ring Them Bells' is something that I had done before. So it was a matter of that-what do we know? There were a ton of songs to choose from, but that's when you realize what songs you know really well that you could just do."

On stage, Murney and Hilty had great chemistry and their voices blended together wonderfully. I also asked what it was like to work with Megan Hilty, since while both had been in Wicked, they never performed together. "So great, it was so much fun," Murney answered. "It was actually one of those things while we were singing ‘For Good' last night, we both got kinda emotional and we said to each other afterwards, ‘Oh my gosh, I'd love to get to do this show with you!' She's really fantastic."

Even if they never get the chance to perform as Glinda and Elphaba together, hopefully someday their paths will cross onstage once again.



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