BWW Review: Megan Hilty Brings Fun, Delightful Cabaret Set to OC's Segerstrom Center
Here's my understatement of the year so far: Broadway star Megan Hilty is one of the most delightful creatures that has ever graced a stage.
This was wonderfully confirmed all throughout the Tony Award nominee's Segerstrom Center for the Arts Cabaret series solo debut, which recently opened to an enthusiastic, candlelit crowd Thursday night and continues for two more performances through November 16, 2019 at the Samueli Theater in Costa Mesa.
Beautiful, quirky, bawdy, self-deprecating, and undeniably talented, Ms. Hilty---who made her Broadway debut playing Galinda in WICKED and also played the role in the national tour and at the long, sit-down production in Los Angeles---was thoroughly engaging and entertaining during her nearly 80-minute acoustic set backed by musical director and principal pianist Matt Cusson and her bassist/guitarist husband, fellow Broadway performer Brian Gallagher.
Aiming to please both fans and those just getting to know her, the much-welcomed Ms. Hilty gave the mixed crowd of savvy Broadway fans and older, deep-pocketed live music patrons a lovely and rousing mixture of Broadway and American Songbook standards as well as familiar and but more modern musical theater songs---many of which she herself sang on the many stage shows she's starred in over her illustrious career. She also performed some personal favorites that included a stripped-down, thoughtfully melancholy cover of Don Henley's "Heart of the Matter" which, admittedly, got me a little teary-eyed.
She, of course, also included songs from the short-lived (but tremendously missed) TV musical series Smash in which she famously played aspiring Broadway actor Ivy Lynn who auditions for---and, uh, deservedly wins---the lead role in the show's fictional Broadway bio-musical of Marilyn Monroe.
And as befitting a cabaret show, Ms. Hilty provided many interesting anecdotes and personal stories in between her exquisitely-rendered songs, giving them personal context and allowing her to showcase her incredible talents as a, dare I say, a standup comedienne. Blessed with perfect comic improv instincts that screams adorkable, my gosh, she had the audience in stitches the whole night, spilling out her witty sassiness and quirky tea-spilling that made it super easy to instantly fall in love with her---and this is even while she's not singing.
"I'm not sure many of you know who I am," she humbly states, "but by the end of the night, we are gonna be best friends!"
She began her show with a rousing, fan-favorite throwback from Smash: "They Just Keep Moving the Line," followed by a snappy mashup medley of "Almost Like Being In Love," and "This Can't Be Love" that she dedicated to her husband Brian, humorously recalling their first date at a dive bar in New York City while he was on Broadway in, uh, a little obscure show called CATS---as Rum Tum Tugger! The adorable pair then proceeded with a very endearing rock-tinged duet in "Suddenly, Seymour" (from LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS).
Ms. Hilty then ushered in Christmas early for the audience with a jazz-swing version of "The Christmas Song," prompting her to admit that she loved the holidays so much that she already has all her decorations up now so that she's able to enjoy the trimmings for two whole months, not just one.
This was followed by the true fan-service moment of the evening... a section dedicated to WICKED, the musical that started her stardom.
"For those of you who haven't seen WICKED," she cheekily explained, "its all about a beautiful blonde girl that changes lives!"
Her impeccable comic skills were in full throttle, naturally, during "Popular," Galinda's fun makeover song for soon-to-be Wicked Witch Elphaba.
For her next song, Ms. Hilty fondly recalled working in Summer Stock 18 years ago where she first met her eventual best friend Carly Hughes, a very successful Broadway actress that can now currently be seen on the ABC sitcom American Housewife. The special guest got Ms. Hilty visibly emotional as she described her very talented friend who soon joined her on stage to sing a duet---marking the first time the pair has ever sung together for a paying audience!
A few scattered "awwwws" from the crowd (including from me) can be heard once the first few recognizable notes of the intro to "For Good" began, signaling that this audience was about to experience something gorgeous and magical. And... WOW, the duet was heartfelt, emotionally riveting, and superbly sung---with all the delicious but subtle riffs you'd want in the song.
Ms. Hilty then proudly turns the stage over to Ms. Hughes to sing a solo song of her own, a sublime, torch-song-y arrangement of "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" from a show she starred in on Broadway, BEAUTIFUL - The Carole King Musical. Fun fact from Ms. Hilty: she and Ms. Hughes, BFFs as they are, apparently shared one single notebook of audition songs. This song---which Ms. Hughes's characters didn't get to sing in the show---was actually both of their go-to audition song.
Next, Ms. Hilty retakes the helm of her show and treats the audience to a buoyant medley from ANNIE GET YOUR GUN that included "There's No Business Like Show Business," "Moonshine Lullaby," "They Say It's Wonderful," and, finally, "I Got The Sun in the Morning." This was her quirky way to transition her setlist to a Country-fied section, which had her flashing back to her working with the one and only Dolly Parton. Ms. Hilty was part of the early workshops, out-of-town tryouts (here in L.A.!), and the eventual Broadway musical adaptation of the hit film 9 to 5, which she starred in as Doralee Rhodes, the very role made famous by Ms. Parton herself. For her solo cabaret, Ms. Hilty revisits her awesome affected Doralee accent to sing "Backwoods Barbie" followed by a short reprise of the title song that had everyone---especially the nostalgia-starved audience members---quite giddy.
The "country" section concluded with a fiery rendition of Patsy Cline's "Walkin' After Midnight" which harkened back to her playing the iconic legend in the TV movie Patsy and Loretta, which dramatized the life of country stars Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn.
After the aforementioned cover of Don Henley's "Heart of the Matter"---a track found in her covers album that she dubbed, unofficially, the "Breakup" album thanks to this type of material---Ms. Hilty reshifted the rest of her concert back to her work in Smash, which clearly many people are having a hard time letting go. Her talented MD Cusson---a musical genius Ms. Hilty described as someone who, astonishingly, doesn't read music!---joins her in "That's Life," a song she sang originally on the show with Katharine McPhee, but Cusson admirably takes on Ms. McPhee's parts in her stead.
In now typical hilarious, tongue-in-cheek fashion, Ms. Hilty prefaces the ending of her show by explaining to the audience---in one of the funniest bits of the entire night that had the audience howling---how encores worked... in her show. Rather than do the normal false pretense of an ending that typically finds a singer step back up to the stage to do additional songs at the end, Ms. Hilty won't even bother walking off.
"I have two kids. I'm tired. I'm not going to go down those stairs just to go back up again. Not even for you guys."
She begins the end with an extra long "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" complete with two false endings. As promised she hold for applause as if the show has ended but simply goes to the edge of the stage and waits it out before feigning surprise...
"Oh, you want more?" she jokes.
Yes, Yes, we do Ms. Hilty. To conclude, she ended with two popular Smash anthems: "Don't Forget Me" followed by "Let Me Be Your Star" that had her belting to the high heavens (which she did on other songs throughout the night as well... but this one was the ultimate diva note of them all).
With the most adorable, quirky personality that can somehow make you weep with a heartfelt ballad, leave you in awe at her divalicious vocal gymnastics, then have you laughing up a storm with her charming wit, Megan Hilty---with her Center Cabaret series debut here in Costa Mesa---solidifies that she is that rare talent that can be great at anything.
And, thus, with the conclusion of her must-see, intimate-room cabaret show---which saw the whole audience jump to their feet with boisterous ovation---Ms. Hilty proved that, yes, she's everyone's best friend now. If you've never seen her in a theatrical show before or in one of her cabaret or symphony-backed concerts, you absolutely need to catch her remaining shows here in the O.C.
** Follow this reviewer on Twitter: @cre8iveMLQ **
Photos courtesy of Perennial Entertainment via Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
Megan Hilty continues performances of her solo cabaret concerts through November 16, 2019 at the Samueli Theatre, located on the campus of Segerstrom Center for the Arts. SCFTA's 2019-2020 Cabaret Series continues with solo shows featuring Broadway superstars Laura Benanti, Analeigh Ashford, and Patti LuPone. For tickets or more information, visit SCFTA.org.