By Adam Cohen
Seth Rudetsky held court at the Town Hall with Broadway royalty Jessie Mueller and Megan Hilty as part of his second annual concert series. The event was held in support of Sandy Hook Promise, an organization dedicated to honoring all victims of gun violence by turning tragedy into a moment of transformation through programs and practices that protect children from gun violence.
The evening was a grand night for singing and storytelling. As only he can, Rudetsky gets Broadway notables to open up and tell stories with good cheer and sing from their catalogue. Throughout the evening, he sleekly segued between his roles as accompanist and interviewer. The performers tell honest, largely humorous stories, crafting a harmonious intimacy while extending appreciation for their obvious gifts and charm.
Hilty and Mueller recently co-starred as Patsy Cline and Loretta Lyne in Lifetime’s movie “Patsy & Loretta.” And a wonderful friendship has been fostered between the two.
The evening opened with Hilty singing “They Just Keep Moving The Line” from her television show Smash.”Mueller followed with Carole King’s “I Feel the Earth Move.” They dueted on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
Rudetsky delved into both women’s past with Hilty being an opera student from Seattle and Mueller from Evanston, Illinois. Hilty trained classically, singing in vocal competitions at eleven years old and even attending opera camp in San Francisco. Mueller told us how she dabbled in theater in high school, nabbing the part of Winifred in Once Upon a Mattress which naturally led to her rendition of “Shy.”
Mueller told a story of an audition which ultimately led to her getting her Broadway break in the revival of On A Clear Day You Can See Forever with Harry Connick, Jr. She was working steadily in Chicago theater and was recommended to the casting director. While everyone else was in black and there for American Idiot, she sang a slow jazz number appropriate for her eventual role of the reincarnated singer Daisy. Mueller couldn’t do the immediate callback because she had a commitment in a friend’s musical reading. She flew herself to New York and landed the Tony nominated role. She regaled the audience with a story where Connick repeated his opening monologue by mistake at the show’s climax one night and her having to sing to stop him.
Hilty took a more formal route to Broadway, but one no less charmed than Mueller’s. As a student at Carnegie Mellon, she and her fellow seniors did a showcase in New York, performing a scene and bits of a song before prospective casting directors and agents. From the showcase, she landed the role of Audrey in a tour of Little Shop of Horrors. However, the tour fell apart and the casting director put her up for Glinda in Wicked. After a couple of auditions, especially one featuring the show’s composer, director and producer she booked the stand-by role for Glinda. This meant she could roam a ten block radius of the Gershwin Theater with a beeper, going on adventures (like finding the best chocolate cake) with friends. She explained that a stand-by is different from an understudy as the stand-by only knows one role, while understudies can pop in for a multitude of roles. The first night she went on opposite Idina Menzel’s Elphaba, before the show, Menzel put her hand on Hilty’s shoulder and said “let’s make the show our own” which was a generous way to ease obvious nerves. Hilty went on to do the role for four and a half years on Broadway, tour and Los Angeles.
The evening featured Mueller performing from Carousel and Waitress. And Hilty, along with composer Marc Shaiman, sang a few numbers from Smash including “Second Hand Baby Grand” and “Let Me Be Your Star.”
Both singers were in top form with powerful, well-acted and moving performances. The selections showed off their talents smashingly while also giving greatest hits. The audience was regaled with their impressive ranges. And they closed with “For Good,” a lovely showcase for the rich warmth and blend of their voices. The evening presented both ladies in their finest, most casual light while presenting their shining voices and talents gracefully.
Seth Rudetsky’s series continues with turns from Patina Miller and Brian Stokes Mitchell. More information and tickets at thetownhall.org. Contributions to Sandy Hook Promise can be made at https://www.sandyhookpromise.org