Megan Hilty delights BPO audience with her voice and humor, Buffalo News

Megan Hilty delights BPO audience with her voice and humor

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on Saturday, March 14, 2015 11:38 PM, updated: March 14, 2015 at 11:56 pm


Megan Hilty sings like a Broadway star, but she talks like your friend at Starbucks. (Or actually, Spot Coffee – but we’ll get back to that one.)

Between powerful renditions of songs from stage and screen and even Barry Manilow, the down-to-earth diva chatted up her audience Saturday night, bringing the Kleinhans Music Hall crowd to its feet – twice – with her voice and making them laugh with her stories.

Equally engaging and entertaining was Steven Reineke, the New York Pops’ musical director, who joined the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra as conductor for the evening.

Together, the 33-year-old Hilty and 44-year-old Reineke – who’ve worked together previously at Carnegie Hall – delivered an energetic, almost youthful slice of Broadway.

“Some of you may know me from a show called ‘Smash,’ ” Hilty said early in the evening, referring to the NBC musical drama in which she played Broadway actress Ivy Lynn.

The audience responded with a wide burst of applause.

“That’s right, that’s about how many people saw it,” she added wryly, referring to the show’s cancellation after two seasons.

The crowd laughed. It was the first of several lighthearted moments from Hilty, whose self-deprecating humor is matched by a booming, passionate, powerful voice. After singing “They Just Keep Moving The Line” – one of two “Smash” songs on the bill – Hilty told the audience she almost didn’t audition for “Smash.” The part, she said, called for a strong dancer.

“I am what we call in the biz ‘a strong mover,’ and even that’s being generous,” she said, eliciting another round of laughs before enrapturing the audience with “Bye Bye Baby,” the “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” song Hilty performed at the audition once her manager prompted her to do it.

Dressed in a strapless, floor-length blue gown and sparkly stilettos – and later in a high-slit, fuchsia design – Hilty cast an elegant beauty that could still be playful. That fun side emerged when she sang an animated version of “Popular” from “Wicked.” Hilty made her Broadway debut in the show, playing the blond-haired witch Glinda opposite Idina Menzel’s Elphaba. Hilty recalled her first-ever performance as Glinda, which happened with two hours notice. (She was a standby.)

Menzel, who’s since become a household name for the hit song “Let It Go” from Disney’s “Frozen,” stopped by before the show to ask if Hilty wanted to go over anything. Hilty, who was fresh out of college, was doubly panicked and excited, which prompted Menzel to put her hands on her fellow lead’s shoulders.

“Let’s just go out there and make the show our own tonight,” Menzel said to Hilty.

Years later, that’s exactly what Hilty did with the BPO – but she didn’t make the show her own by herself. Score a major assist for the energetic and debonair conductor Reineke. While Hilty was offstage, he led the orchestra through a series of instantly recognizable songs: “Mack the Knife,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” “Copacabana,” Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” and his own arrangement of Diana Ross classics.

Then, when Hilty was onstage, Reineke was equally deft at conducting the orchestra in support of the star. The interplay between Hilty, the conductor and the orchestra shone especially bright during a haunting rendition of Johnny Mercer’s “Autumn Leaves” and the Mercer/Manilow song “When October Goes.” The number began with Hilty and a piano, and slowly built to include strings and more.

Hilty and Reineke’s teamwork also blossomed with “Come Rain or Come Shine,” which Hilty performed two years ago under Reineke’s direction at Carnegie Hall. The music was written by legendary composer Harold Arlen who, as Hilty pointed out, was from Buffalo.

“A Buffalonian?” she asked the crowd.

“Buffalonian!” dozens of people called out.

“Buffalonian, of course!” Hilty said, laughing again, seeming like that personable friend you’d sip lattes with at Starbucks.

Except it turns out Hilty prefers Spot Coffee. Earlier in the day, Hilty tweeted from the local coffee joint: “Starbuck Schmarbucks! @SpoTCoffee1 is where it’s at!”

She got Buffalo – and Buffalo got her too.