Megan Hilty: Broadway Hits In Concert

Megan Hilty: Broadway Hits In Concert
Orchestra conducted by Michael Tyack. Sydney Opera House, 17 June 2019

Megan Hilty is pure magic. Magic of the incandescent, amazing, feel-good kind.

Backed by a brilliant 40 piece orchestra led by MD supremo Michael Tyack, Ms Hilty gave a concert that, for the mostly music theatre fans in the audience, dazzled with the "Wow" factor.

As suggested by the title, the repertoire was songs from musicals. American composers only, so songs by that English Lord and those two sad French dudes were not on the menu. The focus was on the golden age jazz standards and big belt songs, so this was all about Gershwin, Berlin, and Styne, with no R&H, L&L, Sondheim, or Bernstein in sight. The exception was when Ms Hilty had us in laughing fits singing the Alto's Lament, where snippets from the other composers are quoted.

A couple of non-show pop covers snuck in, but it would not have been a Megan Hilty concert if she didn't sing material from the two shows which she's most known for over here: Wicked and Smash. Those songs, and her farewell encore song, were for me the most moving and powerful songs of the night.  

We were not only treated to a showcase of songs from the Golden Age of Broadway but also to dynamic and versatile singing. The big bold belt was there and lovely low range that at times recalled Shirley Bassey, but there was also a gorgeous upper range that could be gentle and lyric. And then there were the vocal gymnastics, not only in jumping from high to low but also in style: the girly nasal whine as Glinda for “Popular” met the throaty dungeon of the aforementioned “Lament”. And yet it never felt like showing off: Ms Hilty was serving the song and telling its story.

Her glue was full of humorous and interesting personal anecdotes, where she made herself the butt of the jokes. In these bits she played with her hair a lot and ummed and ahhed a lot. I know some found that a bit annoying but others (including me) found it endearing: it's good to know she's a mere mortal like the rest of us.

At times I wondered if this is what it would have felt like being in the audience at Judy Garland's famous Carnagie Hall concert in the early sixties. Many times I felt the spirit of Judy evoked - not in the sense of a copy cat (certainly not: this was all Megan Hilty) but in the sense of watching someone of Garland's legendary stature and style.

In some songs Ms Hilty tended to sit on the consonant instead of the vowel. e.g. singing "one" as "onnnnnnne" instead of "ooooooooooone". To this I say that when that occurred it suited the style of the song for it to be sung that way, sometimes you have to know when to break the rules if it means the song is better served, and a lot of Broadway Jazz-style singing doesn't respect the rules. Besides, she's Megan Hilty dammit! She can sing it however she wants and it will still sound brilliant. 

In an age when most performances are egotistic posturing relying on tech to hide imperfections, Megan Hilty reminded us what it really should be about: the talent, the sincerity, and serving the song and the audience. This lady took nothing for granted and worked her socks off to please us and earn the applause - and she did so making it look so easy and sincere. Not only that but her willingness to share the glory and show gratitude towards the orchestra, Mr Tyack, and the Opera House staff and crew was touching as it was impressive.

My Plus One, a lady who is a stalwart of the Sydney amateur musical scene, summed up the event with, "I want to be Megan Hilty when I grow up." Judging by the audience reaction it seemed we all did.

Peter Novakovich

Photographer: Prudence Upton

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