By Jack Rico
For anyone who has ever had the chance to enter the nostalgic and historic landmark space of Café Carlyle in Manhattan, it feels like you’ve time-traveled back to a different era, one which was always full of familiar friends, intellectual conversations about the theater, cuisine and most importantly – music. It is this latter reason why I donned my best summer jacket and strutted in with my illustrious wife to see opening night of Megan Hilty crooning her way into the musical grooves of my mind and heart.
Backed by a soulful and charming band led by the pianist/musical director and talented singer in his own right, Matt Cusson, Hilty, who is expecting, evident by her baby bump, sang 14 songs, including encores, that complemented all the stylings of her vocal prowess. She began the set with a familiar song from the now defunct NBC show “Smash,” the potent “They Just Keep Moving The Line”. Though she didn’t sing some of the show stopping songs from the show such as “Let Me Be Your Star” or “History Is Made At Night,” she did delight fans, including me, with a heartfelt rendition of “Second Hand White Baby Grand”. She continued evoking Marilyn Monroe with Jule Styne’s classic from “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” “Bye Bye Baby” and without missing a beat, smoothly entered more jazzy fare.
But what became the hallmark moments of the night for me were the ballad portions in the set. Hilty, known for her vocal power, almost operatic to some extent, dug deep into the corners of the heart and gave two devastatingly heart-wrenching performances of Don Henley’s “Heart of the Matter,” a stripped down version specifically done to highlight the harrowing lyrics, and a medley of “Autumn Leaves / When October Goes”, two songs from songwriter Johnny Mercer, the last made famous by Barry Manilow, a favorite balladeer of mine. What was distinctive and indelible of these particular performances was Hilty’s ability not just to sing the songs, but to know how to interpret them, something I’ve only seen Sinatra, Holiday, Bennett and Manilow do with supreme mastery. Not even Ella could do it. Interpreting a song means understanding the lyric and instead of singing it, it sounds and looks like you’re profoundly experiencing it. Hilty welled up twice and the connection with artist and audience was instant.
The rest of the night seemed to pass like an effervescent bubbly bottle of champagne, uncorked and drank with a good friend, sharing some laughs, falling in love and even experiencing some heartbreak. All in all, the experience, the songs, the New York night with “Megan Hilty at Café Carlyle” was one to remember.
“Megan Hilty at Café Carlyle” will be a 2 week engagement from May 27 through June 7th.
They Just Keep Moving The Line – (From “Smash”) Words by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman; Music by Marc Shaiman)
Bye Bye Baby – Words by Leo Robin; Music by Jule Styne
The Best is Yet to Come – Words by Carolyn Leigh; Music by Cy Coleman
Almost Like Being In Love / This Can’t Be Love – Words by Alan Jay Lerner; Music by Frederick Loewe, Words by Lorenz Hart; Music by Richard Rodgers, **Steven Reineke arrangement
Heart of the Matter – Words and Music by Don Henley, Mike Campbell and J.D. Souther
Someone To Watch Over Me – Words and Music by George & Ira Gershwin
Autumn Leaves / When October Goes – Words by Johnny Mercer; Music by Joseph Kosma, Words by Johnny Mercer; Music by Barry Manilow, **Steven Reineke arrangement
You Don’t Know Me – Words and Music by Cindy Walker & Eddy Arnold, **Matt Cusson arrangement
That’s Life – Words and Music by Dean Kay & Kelly Gordon, ** Marc Shaiman arrangement
Second Hand White Baby Grand – (From “Smash”) Words by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman; Music by Marc Shaiman
The Man That Got Away – Words and Music by Harold Arlen & Ira Gershwin
Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend – Words by Leo Robin; Music by Jule Styne
Get Happy – Words and Music by Harold Arlen & Ted Koehler, **Steven Reineke arrangement
Rainbow Connection – Words and Music by Paul Williams & Kenneth L. Ascher
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