Megan Hilty: A Merry Little Christmas

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Megan Hilty

A Merry Little Christmas

Joe’s Pub, NYC, December 4, 2016

Reviewed by Victoria Ordin for Cabaret Scenes
Megan HIlty Photo: Albert Michael
Megan Hilty
Photo: Albert Michael

A very pregnant and radiant Megan Hilty performed classics from her new Christmas album, A Merry Little Christmas, along with a handful of non-holiday songs (Smash, Wicked, and Joni Mitchell) to a packed house at Joe’s Pub. Served well by her outstanding musical director (and singer) Matt Cusson on piano, her funny, talented husband Brian Gallagher on guitar, Dennis Michael Keefe on bass, and Jack DeBoe on drums, Hilty connected powerfully with the audience from the moment she impishly walked onstage with a tiny Christmas tree and sang a “Jingle Bell Medley.” “That was a lot of Christmas at once!” she joked.

By the end of the set—which flew by—we felt like old friends, even before the poignant rendition of “The Rainbow Connection” (Paul Williams/Kenny Ascher), with which she has closed her shows since being pregnant with her now two-year-old daughter. From phone recordings taken by audience members, Hilty and her husband created a montage of the song for their daughter, and they’ve continued the tradition through her second pregnancy.

“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (Hugh Martin) showcased Hilty’s talent for moving from rock to jazz. Banter with her husband (who, they are “95% sure,” is the father) made for much mirth as they played old favorites. The mood shifted with “A Place Called Home” (Alan Menken/Lynn Ahrens, from their A Christmas Carol score), which Hilty prefaced with a moving reflection on her husband and the home she’s found in the world with him. “I need to start singing and stop talking or I won’t get through the song,” she said, beginning to choke up. The country mashup of “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” (Randy Brooks) and “Blue Christmas” (Billy Hayes/Jay W. Johnson) gave Gallagher a chance to shine, but “Popular” (Stephen Schwartz) from Wicked stole the show. Hilty, who did the show for two years in New York, two years on the road, and six months in her hometown, Seattle, asked if anyone in the audience hadn’t seen the show. A few hands went up and she praised the uninitiated for their courage in admitting their shameful oversight. After an amusing plot recap, she asked, “Have you ever heard a woman six months pregnant sing this?” “Kinda gives a whole new meaning to the song,” her husband joked. And then Hilty performed the song she’s sung live a couple thousand times as though it were her Broadway debut.

“Santa Baby” (Joan Javits/Philip Springer) brilliantly paired with “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” (Leo Robin/Jule Styne) was a hit, especially with the pregnancy as a backdrop (“It’s been a very good year”). “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (Frank Loesser), a theatrical duet with Casson, probably got the loudest applause of the night.

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Hilty loves to sing with Casson but said it’s awkward with “this guy” (her husband) onstage because duets tend to be romantic. So, in search of tame duets she went, and settled on the “the least tame duet ever,” as her husband put it. “She really must go/She’s starting to show” elicited an amusing comment by Gallagher, “It’s 2016! How is this song still a thing?!” And later, with the mention of cigarettes, “STOP smoking!”

Hilty took a Christmas break with “That’s Life” (Dean Kay/Kelly Gordon) before a moving rendition of “River” (Joni Mitchell), which counts as a Christmas song solely based on its first melancholy line: “It’s comin’ on Christmas/They’re cuttin’ down trees.” Mitchell is notoriously difficult to cover, but the a cappella opening proved Hilty has the vocal chops to pull it off. And its inclusion reminded us that “not all Christmases are bright and merry,” which is particularly apt in this town as the holidays approach post-Election Day.

“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” (Edward Pola/George Wyle) ingeniously intertwined with “Skating,” featured a breathtaking bass and piano solo. The mashup was the idea of bassist Dennis Michael Keefe, underscoring the truly collaborative nature of the recent project. The Smash medley of “Don’t Forget Me” and “Let Me Be Your Star” (Marc Shaiman/Scott Wittman) was something of a letdown after the prior number. The evening ended with a clever parody on the encore tradition in cabaret, whereby a singer ends the set, walks off stage, and returns for another number or two. Before the final number and her “heartfelt and genuine thank-yous”—which actually were—the performer prepped us for what was to come.

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Because she’s pregnant, she said she wasn’t going far. She wasn’t kidding: Hilty walked three feet before she “returned” to the stage for a sexy rendition of “They Just Keep Moving the Line” (Shaiman/Wittman) and a beautiful “The Rainbow Connection,” preceded by “There’s Always Tomorrow.”