Review: ‘A Merry Little Christmas with Megan Hilty’ at The Kennedy Center

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If the slightly warmer weather than normal for this time of year is making it hard for you to get into the holiday mood, head to The Kennedy Center for A Merry Little Christmas with Megan Hilty and kickstart that holiday cheer. Megan Hilty’s bubbly stage presence, powerhouse voice, and the plethora of holiday favorites both old and new will certainly get you in that holiday mood.

Megan Hilty. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.

Part of the Renee Fleming VOICES series, Hilty has performed at the Kennedy Center multiple times, this time bringing an intimate holiday show.  She is known for her various Broadway credits, including starring as “Glinda” in Wicked, as well as leading roles in 9 to 5: the Musical and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Hilty gained widespread fame while starring in the TV musical drama Smash. The song “Let Me Be Your Star,” which she performed on Smash, earned an Emmy and a Grammy nomination. She was joined onstage by her husband Brian Gallagher on the guitar, Matt Cusson on piano, Dennis Michael Keefe on bass and Jack DeBoe on drums.

The night kicked off with Hilty setting up a little Christmas tree on stage and going right into a rousing medley of “Jingle Bells,” “Jingle Bell Rock,” and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” Hilty’s brassy vocals and distinctive style were on full display, as she navigated the jazzy arrangements with an ease and an energy that really drew the audience in. Her sultry rendition of “Santa Baby” combined with “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” was a great twist on the original. But part of Hilty’s charm lies in her ability to find the emotional heart of a song and convey that with sincerity, a skill that was clear in her cover of Joni Mitchell’s “River.” It was one of my favorite songs of the night, as Hilty sang it with pathos and sincerity, lovely and sad and sweet.

Hilty is also a gifted comic actress and singer, which was more than evident tonight. Her duet with Matt Cusson on “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” while Hilty’s husband Gallagher threw out commentary on his wife singing such a flirty song with another man had the audience in stitches.  She also stepped away from the Christmas songs to sing “Popular” from Wicked, in tribute to her years singing that song while playing Glinda. Her mannerisms, voice, and perfect comic timing all came together to make this one of the funniest versions of “Popular” I’ve ever seen.

And of course, she could hardly disappoint her fans by failing to sing some songs from the TV show Smash. Her rendition of “Second Hand White Baby Grand” was expressive and moving, as she transitioned from quiet and tender to powerful and resonant in an unforced way that really underlined the message of the song. And her final song of the night—a medley of “Don’t Forget Me” and “Let Me Be Your Star” (both from Smash as well) really showcased the beautiful power and strength of her voice.

There are lots of holiday concerts this time of year, but few performers manage to sparkle and delight as much as Megan Hilty does. She makes popular holiday songs seem new again, and does it all with humor, grace, and superlative vocal prowess.

Running time: 80 minutes, with no intermission.

Renee Fleming: VOICES: A Merry Little Christmas with Megan Hilty plays Thursday, December 8, and Friday, December 9, 2016, at The Kennedy Center – 2700 F Street, NW in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 467-4600, or purchase them online.

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