By Stanford Friedman
Closing out the spring season at Café Carlyle, the poised and personable Megan Hilty hits the stage with a short but sweet set of old favorites, tinged with country music and seasoned with a dash of Smash. The dozen songs, performed in a little over one hour, highlight her diverse singer-actor resume; she sings in character as often as she sings as herself. And the set also reflects upon her position in real life: a highly skilled mid-career artist, a proud mother of two young children, a loving wife, and a soul not immune to loss.
Smash fans get their fix at the start with a favorite song from that cult TV series, the very good, “Let’s Be Bad.” With a jaunty melody and audacious lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, Hilty drapes her phrasing in breathy Marilyn Monroe tones, invitingly suggesting, “If you say something is taboo,/Well, that’s the thing I want to do./Do it till we’re black and blue/Let’s be bad.”
To know how Hilty feels about her husband, the actor/singer/songwriter Brian Gallagher, one need only look to her left, for there he sits, adoringly accompanying her on guitar. But lest there be any doubt, she serves up the deepest cut of the evening, the Bernadette Peters song, “What a Guy,” from the 1993 musical version of The Goodbye Girl. Sealing the deal, the couple follow it up with a touching, devotional duet, Brandi Carlile’s “You and Me on the Rock.”
Nothing Wicked this way comes, but in lieu of Glinda and Elphaba, we get Patsy & Loretta, the 2019 Lifetime TV movie where Hilty portrayed Patsy Cline opposite Jessie Mueller as Loretta Lynn. Jokingly suggesting that she was playing against type, as a brunette, Hilty nonetheless succeeds with a stirring rendition of “Crazy,” and a poignant “Walkin’ After Midnight,” where she weaves a just right web of melancholy atop the lyrics, “I stop to see a weepin’ willow/Cryin’ on his pillow/Maybe he’s cryin’ for me.”
Homage is also paid to Dolly Parton, via the musical version of 9 to 5. The short-lived Broadway production featured Hilty as Doralee, the role Parton played in the famous film. Slipping into her best Dolly twang, Hilty delights with a pure-country rendition of “Backwoods Barbie” (“I might look artificial, but where it counts I’m real.”), before leading the audience in a sing-along of the title song. Yes, at the Carlyle, one moment you may be nibbling on filet mignon, and the next you may be shouting “Barely gettin’ by/It’s all takin’ and no givin’.”
Switching gears dramatically, Hilty briefly addresses last year’s tragic death of her sister and her sister’s family. Pouring the still fresh grief into the Sammy Fain/Irving Kahal classic, “I’ll Be Seeing You,” she offers a heartrending twist to the love ballad, then plays off that energy for a powerful rendition of another classic, Dean Kay and Kelly Gordon’s “That’s Life.”
Shifting back to Broadway, Hilty’s closing number is an extended version of “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” as sung by the character Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Hilty starred in the 2012 Encores! concert staging of the show, she notes that two very different women, Marilyn Monroe and Carol Channing both played the part and that her interpretation was somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. If anything, the number is almost too rousing, with driving rhythms that reach near Sousa-esque proportions.
And speaking of encores, Hilty makes clear she is no fan of the excessive applause often demanded to get a performer back on stage when everyone knows she will return regardless. Simply doing away with all that, she humorously instructs that she’s not going anywhere before launching into a tender encore number, “The Rainbow Connection,” a lullaby for her children nestled in their hotel beds, many floors above, where the audience’s booming applause won’t wake them.
Megan Hilty at Café Carlyle.
Matt Cusson, Music Director/Piano/Vocals
Guitar/Vocals: Brian Gallagher
Bass: Dennis Michael Keefe
Drums: Jack DeBoe
Tuesday to Saturday at 8:45pm, through June 24. Reservations can be made online via Tock. Café Carlyle is located in The Carlyle, A Rosewood Hotel (35 East 76th St., at Madison Ave.). https://www.rosewoodhotels.com/en/the-carlyle-new-york/dining/cafe-carlyle. Running time: 70 minutes