BWW Review: Megan Hilty and Cheyenne Jackson a Smash at the Wallis Annenberg
One of the most highly anticipated concerts of the season took place Saturday January 25 at the Bram Goldsmith Theater of the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills. It co-starred Megan Hilty and Cheyenne Jackson. To say the least both performers were at the very top of their form and blew the roof off the Annenberg by just being their professional selves, singing sublimely, separately and together, and sharing stories about their careers and personal lives.
The pair have been friends for over a dozen years since their appearances on Broadway and have a natural chemistry together. The Los Angeles concert was part of a tour that they have been doing across country during the past several months.
Hilty has an amazing vocal range. When you listen, you may utter "Oh, she's a soprano...no, she's an alto." She covers both amazingly. Known as Glinda in the national tour of Wicked and as Doralee in 9 to 5 the Musical, Hilty also made a career splash on television in "Smash" as Marilyn Monroe and more recently as Patsy Cline in a new Lifetime film, winning a Critic's Choice Award for her performance. In the concert she sang from 9 to 5 and from "Smash" and did a splendid "Walkin' After Midnight", one of Cline's megahits.
However, is was the stories she told about Dolly Parton and Cline that really brought out a lot of heart. She said that when Parton the business woman talked, it was as if she were talking only with you, she was that personal and caring. When other record industry people in Tennessee tried to prevent Loretta Lynn from becoming a country star, it was Patsy who coerced her to go with her to a meeting where she publically stood up for her friend, giving her the star-like attention she deserved. The result is history. Hilty's dynamite voice was at its best on "Movin' the Line" from "Smash" and "Second Hand White Baby Grand" also from "Smash". The story connected to the piano is that Marilyn Monroe's mother had given it to her as a child. When she was institutionalized, it got sold off. Years later, at the top of her fame, Monroe searched and found the piano and bought it back, showing how much she valued it and the relationship with her mother, which was a loving one in spite of all the mixed-up complications.
Nice to note that Hilty's husband Brian Gallagher was on guitar throughout the evening and had a few fun exchanges with her, like chiding her for being his wife and not referring to him as simply Brian. Matt Cusson was also in the quartet playing a mean piano accompaniment throughout the 2 hour set, divided with a 15-minute intermission.
There were several duets with Hilty and Jackosn, most notably the opener "Here's to Love", a cute bouncy "Something Stupid", everyone's favorite "Suddenly Seymour" from Little Shop of Horrors... and the memorable "You Matter to Me" from Broadway's Waitress.
Jackson still cuts a handsome figure in his forties and, according to Hilty, has dreamy eyes that simply carry you away. His voice is a magnificent combination of terrific range and passion that he displayed in every song he sang, especially "Feelin' Good", in tribute to his two twin children who are 3 and a half, and "Song for You" in honor of his husband of 7 years Jason Landau. He also poured out his heart on his own composition "Ok" in honor of his father who passed a couple of years ago.
Once again as with Hilty, it was the stories that he told that made us really relate to him. Whereas Hilty's tended to be more on the career side, Jackson's were far more personal. For example, when his little girl Willow asked him if he was sad and missed his dad, he said yes. She crossed to him, cupped his face in her hands and said "I'm your dad". Another tearful story was about growing up in Idaho dirt poor and wanting to get out. When he saw Les Mis with a school group, it was his first exposure to live professional theatre, and it overwhelmed him with a desire to become a professional singer. His dad's story was perhaps the most touching. As Cheyenne grew up snd matured, he was sought after to play football and was horrified at the thought of being involved in such a violent game. His dad at one point in conversation put his hand on his knee and told him it was "ok", to be himself and follow his heart.
This was a splendid evening of song and storytelling that touches the heart. It is what great theatre is all about, spreading joy and love. If the tour continues, do not miss Megan Hilty and Cheyenne Jackson wherever they perform.