BWW Review: CHRISTMAS WITH CHEYENNE JACKSON AND MEGAN HILTY Throw a Festive Get Together at Dallas Symphony Orchestra
While millennials and younger generations may be most familiar with the work of stage and screen stars Cheyenne Jackson and Megan Hilty, audiences of all ages will be delightfully astonished by the pair's holiday concert with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, running through December 22 at the Meyerson Symphony Center.
Both well-known for their Broadway credits, Jackson and Hilty are perhaps best respected for the wide range of their careers, spanning from popular TV series and movies to their lesser known (though equally entertaining) solo albums. In addition to his starring roles in the Broadway productions of FINIAN'S RAINBOW and XANADU, Jackson has remained a near-constant presence on television and various streaming services, including 30 Rock, four seasons of American Horror Story, and this year's breakout hit Watchmen. Hilty made her Broadway debut as Glinda in WICKED after graduating from Carnegie Mellon but remains best known-and widely adored-for her starring role in the cult favorite series Smash. Hilty will also star as Patsy Cline in an upcoming movie about the singer's relationship with fellow country star Loretta Lynn.
It doesn't feel quite right to call Jackson and Hilty's current engagement a Christmas concert. Certainly, the evening abounds with holiday standards both old and new, but the event feels more warm and casual than one might expect, as though Jackson and Hilty are the hosts of an intimate gathering of friends and family. Between the numbers, all of which have been personally selected by the stars themselves, the two exchange witty banter and share stories about what this time of year means to them-reflecting on what has been gained and lost over the years. These reflections often segue into songs that are decidedly not Christmas-themed, but the transition is never jarring because Jackson and Hilty make a concerted effort (pun intended) to connect these numbers to their own feelings of love and gratitude
Jackson is at his most thrilling when singing numbers with a jazzy or pop feel to them, numbers made all the better because of his clear emotional attachment to them. Audiences swooned over his take on Mariah Carey's ubiquitous classic "All I Want for Christmas Is You," but this critic was most impressed when witnessing a clear connection between the lyrics of the song and anecdotes from Jackson's personal life. A story about the strange joy of raising twin toddlers led into the swinging expression of gratitude "Feeling Good," with falsetto notes as high as the singer's own spirits. Especially touching, though, was Jackson's reflections on the life and death of his father, and the singer treated audiences to an intimate performance of an original song he wrote after his father's passing. To say more risks robbing the moment of some of its authentic emotional force.
Hilty's song selections show off her incredible range, both in terms vocal virtuosity and musical stylings. Intuiting the demands of her biggest fans, she "belts her face off"-as one young audience member put it-in two of the most well-known songs from Smash, "Don't Forget Me" and "Let Me Be Your Star." Similarly, her bombastic rendition of "Santa Baby" had viewers cheering before the number was even half-finished. But Hilty has also mastered the art of keeping her audiences engaged with softly sung expressions, picking her way through the complex emotions of Joni Mitchell's folk song "River" and the lesser-known Alan Mencken ballad "A Place Called Home." It is also worth mentioning here that Hilty has sung with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra (DSO) before, an experience she clearly found so fulfilling that she was more than happen to return once more.
And the DSO, as usual, is in excellent form, using the concert as an opportunity to display the wide range of their mastered musical stylings. Under the direction of Lawrence Loh, the symphony modulates their sound perfectly to match the emotion and expression of the singers, whether it's the triumphant bellowing of the brass section during jazz standards or the graceful elegance of the strings that one often associates with more classic holiday numbers. For those who want to experience the symphony in all their unadulterated glory, though, the first and second parts of the program open with instrumental pieces that act as a kind of thematic overture. The opening to the concert is the most pleasing in this regard, with a creative arrangement that imbues traditional Christmas carols with lively syncopated rhythms and the cheery element of percussive bells. Like much of the concert, the piece exquisitely blends the old and the new.
If there were any hiccups, they appeared to be relatively minor and perhaps only noticeable to those (such as critics) listening for them. The tempo became muddled during the accelerando near the end of Jackson's swinging take on "I Wanna Be Americano," a disappointing blip in an otherwise rousing number. The only other real critique is that the encore number, while brilliantly sung in a friendly duet between Jackson and Hilty, seemed an anticlimactic choice for the carefully arranged concert that preceded it. I mention these moments so that any symphony purists out there might be prepared, but the average audience members-the audiences for whom this concert was clearly lovingly created-will be too swept away by the talent and charisma of the two singers to take note of such trifles.
In short, in the final weekend of the holiday season, the DSO has presented a Christmas concert that will please audiences of all ages and of all musical proclivities. This serves as an excellent opportunity to introduce younger generations to the beauty of Dallas's world-class symphony as well as a chance for seasoned patrons to loosen their ties and revel in the joy of a good time.