Dallas — The Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center was filled with jazz and jokes as actress and singer Megan Hilty took the stage for her three-day engagement with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Jeff Tyzik. It was the first show in the Dallas Symphony Pops Series, kicking off the 2016-2017 DSO season.
Opening with a hit song from her hit TV show Smash, “They Just Keep Moving the Line,” Hilty treated the audience to a bit of Broadway belt depicting the struggle Marilyn Monroe faced during her Hollywood career. The DSO started off a little strong, almost overwhelming the vocal line, but after the first song the balance settled down and allowed Hilty’s powerful voice to shine.
Hilty segued into a duo of songs from her first role on Broadway as the good witch Glinda in Wicked, the iconic “Popular”—complete with a Chenoweth-esque bubbly, nasal delivery—and the slower, sweet “For Good,” a lovely showcase for the rich warmth of her lower register.
The program continued with some fun, upbeat jazz (a mashup of “Almost Like Being in Love” and “This Can’t Be Love”) that further showed off the flexibility of Hilty’s voice and how easily she moves from genre to genre. There was a nice interplay between performer and orchestra, and Hilty clearly enjoyed the musical breaks, often turning to watch the performers.
The penultimate song of the first half was a beautifully emotional rendition of Don Henley’s “Heart of the Matter,” which Hilty typically performs with her smaller four-piece setup. She had orchestral charts created for the song, which she debuted here in Dallas. The arrangement, she said, was slowed to highlight the lyrics. It was followed by a fast, sharp rendition of “Get Happy,” ramping up the energy before intermission.
The second half continued the jazzy feel with a nice trio of standards, including two from Hilty’s latest album, Live at the Café Carlyle. She sang a wistful combination of “Autumn Leaves” and “When October Goes,” which she said were possibly her favorite songs to sing. These songs in particular showed off what an evocative performer she is, able to match her voice perfectly to the tenor of any song.
That was more than apparent in Hilty’s hilarious rendition of the classic “Alto’s Lament,” which seemed to be a pleasant surprise for the audience. It was a big jump from atmospheric jazz—plus, it’s kind of hard to imagine Hilty as anything but an ingénue—but it was a definite crowd-pleaser that highlighted her comedic chops.
Hilty introduced another song from Smash, “Second-Hand White Baby Grand,” as her favorite from the show. It’s easy to see why, as it’s a lovely, quiet song that tells a touching story from the life of Marilyn Monroe and her relationship with her mother. She kept up the Marilyn feel (plus a dash of Carol Channing) with “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” a showy piece from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which Hilty performed in the Encores! production of the musical.
The evening closed with another new orchestral arrangement, the sweet, lullaby-like “Rainbow Connection” (made famous by Kermit the Frog) which Hilty and her husband, actor/musician Brian Gallagher, performed on the road while Hilty was pregnant with their daughter Viola, now almost two. They always dedicated it to her, filming the audience to show her all the wonderful places she visited and the people she met. To hear Hilty sing it so tenderly felt like she was welcoming the audience into that circle of memories.
Overall, the concert was a great start to the DSO season—it felt like an intimate evening with a friend, albeit one wearing glamorous gowns and with the backing of an expert orchestra.