Megan Hilty is not fat. After opening with a spirited Jingle Bell Medley (“Jingle Bells”, “Jingle Bell Rock”, and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”) at Joe’s Pub on Saturday night, Hilty remarked, “Wow! That was a lot of Christmas just now,” and proceeded to break the ice by explaining her pronounced mid-section. “Can we address the baby bump?” she said. “I know some of you might think that Megan has really let herself go, but in fact, I am expecting a baby boy in March!”
Megan Hilty, best known to Broadway audiences from leading roles in 9 to 5: The Musical, Wicked, and Noises Off is currently in the midst of performing her 5 night engagement entitled, A Merry Little Christmas with Megan Hilty, which began on Friday evening and concludes on Tuesday. The solo performance also coincides with her newly released album of the same name.
Fans of television’s Smash are particularly aware of Hilty’s vocal prowess and she was sure to please with selections from the show. The songbird was accompanied by an impressive group of musicians including her music director and pianist Matt Cusson, bass player Dennis Michael Keefe, Jack Deboe on drums, and her guitarist and husband, Brian Gallagher.
Gallagher, whose voice could well be described as “contemporary, hipster, Neil Diamond”, joined his wife for the favorite showtune, “Suddenly Seymour” from Little Shop of Horrors. The arrangement seemed to be too edgy and their voices didn’t quite gel, but they more than compensated with a comical mash up of “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” and “Blue Christmas.” Shifting tone, she spoke about the meaning of creating her family and delivered a simple but beautiful song from the stage musical of A Christmas Carol entitled “A Place Called Home.”
Drawing from her stage roles, Hilty delighted her fans with a tune that her character, Glinda, sang from the blockbuster musical Wicked. As she sang, I was reminded of the truth in Stephen Schwartz’s lyrics:
Think of celebrated heads of state, or especially great communicators. Did they have brains or knowledge? Don’t make me laugh! They were popular! Please! It’s all about popular. It’s not about aptitude, It’s the way you’re viewed, So it’s very shrewd to be, very very popular like me!
I couldn’t help but draw parallel to a certain new, reality television spawned President-elect of the free world. Politics aside, it’s a role and a song that is tailor-fit for this Broadway baby.
Returning to the Christmas theme, Hilty delivered a lovely rendition of “The Christmas Song”, followed by another smart combination of tunes that included “Santa Baby” and “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” One of the funniest moments came next as Hilty, Cusson, and Gallagher shook up the traditional and terribly dated, “Baby, its Cold Outside.” The song began as a romantic plea between Cusson and Hilty. Later, a jealous Gallagher interjected with comments like, “This is 2016. This song is still a thing? Really!?!” For a standard that is often performed without much irony and is essentially an endorsement of date rape, this three person rendition was the freshest and funniest I’ve ever heard.
Although she acknowledged that it had little to do with Christmas, Hilty managed to include “That’s Life” into the evening repertoire and when she was finished she told her audience that it’s available on her “Live at the Café Carlyle” album, which was being sold in the lobby.
Hilty’s hard sell is one of the few off-putting aspects of this otherwise powerhouse performer. As she opened the show, she carried a small Christmas tree, decorated with “ornaments” that doubled as zip drives of her album. She hawked them towards the show’s end. It certainly makes sense for performers to be self-promoters, but with sold out performances, she clearly has a loyal following. The flagrant promotions come across like a segment on QVC. In addition, it’s a lot to ask of an audience who has just dropped $40-$45 on a ticket plus paid for a two drink minimum.
Hilty did sincere justice to Joni Mitchell’s melancholy “River”, and followed it with “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”, a jazzy version that included strains of Vince Guaraldi’s music from A Charlie Brown Christmas.
The modern day Marilyn Monroe “ended” her show with “Let Me Be Your Star” from Smash, but joked before singing it that it wasn’t really the last song. She would pretend that it was and then she would do an intentionally planned encore. It’s a bit that might work for new audiences who have never seen her live, but die-hard fans (like myself) have seen this multiple times before. Hilty is a supremely talented and naturally funny performer, but I might suggest some new patter.
Before her final closer, “They Just Keep Moving the Line”, Hilty shared with her audience that she and her husband have just moved to Los Angeles. She’s currently appearing in the Warren Beatty helmed film, Rules Don’t Apply. While I wish her the best on a west coast career, let’s hope that she still keeps one foot on Broadway. She’s simply too good to lose to celluloid!
“A Merry Little Christmas with Megan Hilty”. Live at Joe’s Pub through Tuesday Dec. 6th. For tickets, album information, and other appearances, visit http://www.meganhiltyonline.com/