The star of TV’s Smash and Broadway’s Wicked and 9 to 5 shows her charisma and musicianship at Cafe Carlye.
By Paul Hagen
On the way to see Megan Hilty light up Cafe Carlyle like a fireworks display, I was listening to selections from Smash — the short-lived, behind-the-scenes-of-Broadway TV show that introduced her considerable talents to legions of new fans. As I listened, I came across song after song that I knew I would love to hear Hilty perform live, and then almost immediately thought of a host of reasons why she couldn’t possibly choose them. To my heart’s delight, she did most of them anyway.
I certainly did not expect Hilty to tackle one of the show’s sweet duets, “Mr & Mrs Smith,” without a Joe DiMaggio; enter Hilty’s husband Brian Gallagher in the role, allowing the couple to infuse the song with their giddy, real-life romance. Nor did I think she would take on the blockbuster “Let’s Be Bad,” which she performed on TV with a full chorus, yet she busted it out and set not a tongue-twisting lyric nor a daring note wrong. It would have been too much to expect her explosive and challenging eleven o’clock number, “They Just Keep Moving the Line,” but she belted it with as the evening’s pre-encore grand finale. Hilty even offered a solo rendition of the (famously duetted) Smash banner song “Let Me Be Your Star.” Anyone unable to snatch tickets to the June 8 one-night-only concert performance of Smash’s Marilyn Monroe musical Bombshell could find comfort in enjoying some of its most memorable numbers with Hilty.
But it was far from an all-Smash-all-the-time evening. Hilty offered quick stops at some of her other projects: There was the lovely “Be a Man” from her excellent (and underappreciated) pop album “It Happens All the Time.” And one of her encores was a vivacious “Diamonds Are a Girls Best Friend,” recalling her knock-’em-dead turn as Lorelei Lee in the Encores! production of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”
The rest of the evening was a parade of standards deftly chosen to allow Hilty to show off her charisma and musicianship. Though I normally find “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” an exhausting collection of groceries, Hilty’s rendition felt fresh and exciting, featuring Matt Cusson (the show’s musical director and pianist) lending his Stevie Wonder-like pipes to thrilling riffs in addition to some funny asides from Gallagher. Midway through the set, Hilty offered a touching tribute to Fran Landesman – perhaps best known as the lyricist of “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” – before presenting a rendition of Landesman’s “Ballad of the Sad Young Men” that displayed a truly breathtaking mix of control and emotional intensity that recalled, for me, the brilliance and purity of Eva Cassidy.
At the end of a thrilling night that heavily showcased Hilty’s nobody-does-it-better belting, she closed with a quieter number that somewhat redefined the expression “one for my baby and one more for the road.” Hilty shared that she had done a fair amount of touring while recently pregnant and – having been told by doctors that the baby-to-be could hear every note Mom performs – they had taken to closing each show with a song dedicated to their daughter, Viola. Though Viola has since made her grand entrance, Hilty and company continue to wrap up with a song for her: in this case the appropriately lullaby-esque “Count Your Blessings” by Irving Berlin. In addition to being a beautiful way to say goodnight, it’s a perfect panacea for anyone sick over not getting a chance to see Hilty during her tenures at Wicked or 9 to 5 — not to mention fans still missing their weekly dose of Smash or gnashing their teeth over not snagging tickets to that Bombshell concert. If you’re suffering any of those symptoms, head to 76th and Madison to let Mama Megan sing it all better.
Megan Hilty appears at Cafe Carlyle May 19–30, Tuesday to Friday at 8:45, Saturday at 8:45 and 10:45. Click here for reservations, visit meganhiltyonline.com for more info, and follow Megan @meganhilty and Brian @BrianGGallagher on Twitter.
Last modified: March 9, 2018