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Megan Hilty exudes star quality in Cabaret debut

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Fans of Megan Hilty, who starred in the cancelled NBC TV series “Smash,” were not disappointed when she performed Saturday at the Cabaret at the Columbia during the 7:30 p.m. show (a second show was held at 9:30 p.m.). Those present who were somewhat familiar or totally unfamiliar with Hilty were clearly also impressed with the singer/actress who is currently appearing in yet another NBC series, a sitcom titled “Sean Saves the World.” The blonde beauty Hilty brought the same dynamic stage presence and demonstrated the same formidable vocals that also made her a hit on Broadway in “Wicked” and “9 to 5: The Musical.”

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Hilty, who exuded both warmth and charm, was accompanied by Matt Cusson on piano, percussionist Ryan Hoagland and Brian Gallagher, her husband, on guitar; the ensemble presented a 75 minute program of pop, standards, Broadway tunes and some originals from her debut solo album “It Happens All the Time.” Gifted with a purity of tone and an extensive range, the versatile Hilty was equally at ease whether she was belting or softly caressing the lyrics of a ballad.

“They Just Keep Moving the Line” by Marc Shaiman and Scott Whittman, one of the songs from “Bombshell,” the show within the show in “Smash,” was Hilty’s opening number, establishing her connection to the role of Ivy Lynn, a driven performer hoping to play Marilyn Monroe in a new Broadway musical.

Standout moments during her program included duets Hilty performed with Gallagher of “Suddenly Seymour” from “Little Shop of Horrors” and a country/rock flavored original called “Lonesome.”

A highlight of the evening occurred when Hilty sang an exquisite pairing of “Autumn Leaves” with “When October Goes,” the last song Johnny Mercer wrote with music by Barry Manilow. Hilty’s ability to modulate her voice to make a seamless transition between the two songs was amazing and the results — simply breathtaking.

“Second Hand White Baby Grand,” another “Smash” song written by Shaiman/Whittman and based on a true story about Marilyn Monroe and the piano owned by her mother, was another favorite.

Hilty came as close to anybody in matching Judy Garland’s vocal powers and passion when she sang a stunning rendition of “The Man Who Got Away.” The song, with music by Harold Arlen and lyrics by Ira Gershwin, was sung by Garland in the 1954 film version of “A Star is Born.”

“I always get the blonde parts,” joked Hilty, who ended her set with “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” from “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” She earned rave reviews playing Lorelei Lee in the 2012 Encores! production in NYC.

For an encore Hilty sang “Popular” from “Wicked,” in which she played Glinda the Good Witch, and “The Rainbow Connection,” originally performed by Kermit the Frog in the 1979 “Muppet Movie.” It was a beguiling conclusion to a superb program and an auspicious 2014 winter/fall season opening for the Cabaret at the Columbia Club, which continues to raise the bar high for world class entertainment in Central Indiana.

For tickets and information about upcoming season performances, call the Cabaret at the Columbia Club at (317) 275-1169 or visit www.thecabaret.org.

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