Barbara Cook’s Spotlight: Megan Hilty at The Kennedy Center

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Stage, film, and television star, Megan Hilty wowed the audience at The Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater last night with an eclectic concert that proved that Hilty is the sort of striking talent that comes along once in a blue moon.

Hilty strode out on the stage in a black form-fitting dress and powerfully caressed each note of the classic song “Movin’ the Line” until she finished with a rousing and surging crescendo. She moved like a whirlwind careening through a set of fourteen songs and two encores, accompanied by three superb musicians (including her husband, Brian Gallagher, on guitar, Matt Cusson on piano, and Ryan Hoagland on percussion) and moving through a mix of different musical styles with ease. Hilty sings with an air of sensual gusto with a beautiful, husky yet clear vibrato and earthy ,deep, brassy tones yet she still belts out all the high notes to moving effect.

Megan Hilty. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.

Megan Hilty. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.

Launching into an upbeat and affirmative rendition of the well –known song “The Best is Yet to Come,” she evoked a very knowing understanding of the lyrics and brought a tone of abandon and joy to her rendition. (Hilty’s vocal style, while distinctly unique and original, often reminded me of the lush, almost-loquacious tones of Leslie Uggams at her vocal peak). After talking about playing Audrey in the National Tour of the musical Little Shop of Horrors,  she proceeded to sing an amusing duet of “Suddenly Seymour” with her husband on guitar.

Next, Hilty veered into two songs –“Be a Man” and “Lonesome” that had an obvious country twang. Though Hilty was in command with these musical choices, I feel that these songs did not display the lush tones and vocal depth of Ms. Hilty to their best advantage. Hilty’s vocal chops deserve the classic standards, romantic torch songs and Broadway showstoppers that her vocal style intuitively embraces with such singularity and power.

More fitting was her superior and heartbreaking rendition of George Gershwin’s “Someone To Watch Over Me” which was delivered with eloquence and sensitivity. The guitar solo by husband Gallagher was a splendid accompaniment to the song.

The highlight of the evening for me was the non-hurried and ruminative medley of Johnny Mercer’s “Autumn Leaves” and “Lonesome.” Hilty held out the last few notes and words to haunting and mesmerizing effect aided wonderfully by Matt Cusson on piano.

Evoking a nice musical flashback to her cult hit television series Smash, fans of that very creative show were treated to two sensational songs that were performed on the series—namely, “That’s Life” and “Second Hand White Baby Grand.” Hilty explained the real-life context of Marilyn Monroe’s life and how it influenced the latter song.

Certainly the platitude “she brought the house down “ would fittingly apply to Hilty’s engaging, hilarious, and sensual cover of Jule Styne’s “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Indeed, Hilty should have a musical written for her of this caliber –she is the type of performer who would look right at home in a classic book musical written for a musical star or as the gorgeous vixen of a classic film noir. Hilty was so effective in this number that the audience demanded additional verses as encores and Hilty delivered them with zeal, topping her lines with finesse and wit. (Hilty played the character of Lorelei Lee and performed this number in the recent Broadway New York City Center “Encores!”production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.)

Coming back for deserved encores, Hilty proceeded to sing the zany and precocious Stephen Schwartz’ song “Popular” from the huge Broadway hit Wicked. Having starred in the show for five years on Broadway and on National tours, it was easy to see the familiarity with which she imbued the song.

A touching conclusion to this amazing showcase of such a spectacular talent was the song “Rainbow Connection.” An admittedly pregnant Hilty sang this well-known song in tribute to her pending child and even had a member of the audience record the moment for video for future showing to her child (will there be another singing Hilty for the next generation?).

Megan Hilty is a musical force of nature.

Running Time: 70 minutes.

Barbara Cook’s Spotlight: Megan Hilty was performed on Friday night, May 2, 2014 at 7:30PM and at 9:30 PM  at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater –2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For future Kennedy Center events, check their calendar.4 at 7:30PM and at 9:30PM. For more information on upcoming shows go to: www.kennedy-center.org

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