Luck Be a Lady: Megan Hilty Sings Sinatra and More
The New York Pops Symphony Orchestra teamed up with guest singers for "Luck Be a Lady: Megan Hilty Sings Sinatra and More" at Carnegie Hall Friday night, and as is usually the case, shared its grand and storied stage with a well curated assemblage of special guest vocalists.
The publicized star of the show was television's Megan Hilty, a star of the popular NBC musical-drama series "Smash" and (arguably) the Pops' most pop-culture-relevant guest vocalist of the season. With her current notoriety and theatrical street cred (she is also known for originating the Dolly Parton role in Broadway's "9 to 5"), it seemed Hilty was poised for an auspicious and triumphant Carnegie Hall debut.
She entered to a thunderous tympani roll and Pops conductor Steven Reineke's boxing-announcer introduction wearing a sparkling gold floor-length and the blondest of up-dos looking every bit the radiant bombshell.
The performance that followed however did not fulfill the lofty promise such a magnificent entrance might suggest. Hilty dove into the performance with Sinatra's signature "Luck Be a Lady." After executing a controlled and energetic delivery of the extended recitative, the moment the song's true pulse kicked in, she herself seemed to flatline. It isn't that her technique was flawed.
Her likeability never even seemed to waiver. Yet even amplified, spotlit and dressed up like a buxom bar of bullion, Hilty was somehow swallowed up into the gauntlet of the orchestra behind her like a toddler in a tidal wave.
In her defense, the New York Pops is a force to be reckoned with. When they played Reineke's arrangement of "Mack the Knife" (sans chant) four tunes in, the orchestra instantly brought the comatose crowd to life. Reineke's conducting at its best is really more of a dance. Cuing that tinkling piano, that thumping tambourine and those infectious bells, leading the symphony to redeem itself, he was the Pied Piper of Swing.
The Pops' other guest vocalist of the evening was Ryan Silverman, the dashing leading man who's currently appearing off-Broadway in Stephen Sondheim's "Passion." Silverman is skilled in the art of the climactic final high note. He demonstrated that consistently in virtually every song he performed, most notably in "What Kind of Fool Am I?" during which he also managed to embody the unmistakable physicality of Sammy Davis, Jr. who made the song famous.
But in the one song that Hilty and Silverman sang together, a medley of love songs, they never got around to treating it like much of a duet. Their chemistry was forced but never quite jelled. It was as if they were singing simultaneous solos.
Hilty was able to muster at least two triumphant moments during the concert, perfectly placed at the end of each act. First, it was the infectious "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend," a song that is so unabashedly vapid and silly that Hilty was finally able to loosen up and find the cutesy, brassy irony at the center of the song.
And then she closed the show with the Judy Garland arrangement of "Come Rain or Come Shine" which Garland famously performed on that very Carnegie Hall stage some fifty years ago. I was afraid her choice to perform that song was overly ambitious, but somehow she pulled it off without a hitch, channeling Garland all the while.
At one point in the show she apologized to the sold-out crowd: "Sorry if I'm staring at you all creepily -- I'm just trying to take it all in." Her candor blurred the line between awestruck reverence and being intimidated by the grandeur. I wish she'd given herself a little more credit.
During a requisite break to talk to the audience, Reineke mentioned that, should scheduling allow, Hilty would be returning to perform for the Pops gala concert later in the month. If so, let's hope this time she comes back swingin'.
"Luck Be a Lady: Megan Hilty Sings Sinatra and More" played on March 8 at Carnegie Hall, 881 Seventh Ave. For info or tickets, call 212-765-7677 or visit www.nypops.org