Megan Hilty at the Café Carlyle

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By Brian Scott Lipton

 

 

If you read a headline blaring “Hilty Does Clooney!,” you could be forgiven for thinking a story about infidelity between two Hollywood stars was to follow. But get your minds out of the gutter. What I’d be describing is former Smash star (and 2016 Tony Award nominee) Megan Hilty’s thoughtful new show at the Café Carlyle, paying tribute to the late, great Rosemary Clooney.

Both women share many qualities: physical beauty, a slight brashness, and an extreme sensitivity to lyrics. (The latter explains why Hilty deliberately chose to omit Clooney’s big novelty hits “Come On-A My House” and “Mambo Italiano”). And when Hilty wraps her sweet-yet-full throated voice around some of America’s greatest standards, the results can be magical.

 

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Megan with husband Brian Gallagher

 

There is extraordinary beauty and longing in her rendition of Clooney’s megahit “Tenderly,” supreme sorrow in “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me,” sheer gratitude in “Count Your Blessings Ahead of Sleep,” and a heart-stopping pathos in a medley of “Autumn Leaves” and “When October Goes.”

The show is admittedly a bit too ballad-heavy, and Hilty’s attempts to lighten things up were a mixed bag. I enjoyed her swinging “Sway” and powerful “Come Rain or Come Shine,” but didn’t quite understand a rather oddly uptempo “I Get Along Without You Very Well.” A sprightly but silly duet with guitarist-husband Brian Gallagher on “I’m Putting My Eggs in One Basket” (a song she admits Clooney didn’t record) didn’t show off either of their skills to the best advantage, nor did having pianist Matt Cusson join her on “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” fully showcase either’s talents.

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Megan and The Band

 

Indeed, one had to wait until the show’s end, when Hilty returned to her Smash material (mentioning that its composer, Marc Shaiman, who had been Clooney’s pianist in her later years) for the singer to truly dazzle. With her voice in full-out mode, she knocked the roof off the house, first with a stirring medley of “Don’t Forget Me/Let Me Be Your Star” and then by belting the powerful “They Just Keep Moving the Line” – songs her fans clearly came to hear.

In keeping with the rather informal tone of the evening, Hilty eschewed the traditional walk-off-the-stage encore (preparing us in advance), ending the evening with a decidedly heartfelt “I Wish You Love” that, like the star herself, was a model of sincerity.

Megan Hilty continues at the Café Carlyle (35 East 76th Street) through May 14. Call 212-744-1600 for reservations.

Photos: David Andrako

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