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Review: Hilty a powerhouse at Pops performance

| Friday, June 20, 2014, 10:12 a.m.
Pittsburgh Symphony
Megan Hilty

Megan Hilty made a triumphant return to Heinz Hall in her debut June 19 with the Pittsburgh Symphony Pops.

Hilty first performed at Heinz Hall years ago, when she was a student at Carnegie Mellon University, singing with Fiddlesticks at the symphony's children's concerts. It was, she said, “the best college job ever.”

Now, with Broadway and television shows under her belt, and a nice-sized baby bump as well, she was the headliner in a program of great American songs, which will be repeated through June 22.

Conductor Steven Reineke opened the evening with “Blonde Overture,” as in “Gentlemen Prefer” them. Despite some balances that were askew, it provided the requisite lively start.

The conductor moved more like a band leader than the stereotype of an orchestra conductor. He was so smoothly graceful that a member of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in attendance said he thought Reineke could have been a dancer.

The overture segued directly into “Luck Be a Lady,” which showcased Hilty's powerful voice. She was studying operatic singing when she realized Broadway was a better fit and retains those “legit” pipes.

Reineke brought several of his own Pops arrangements for orchestra alone — including Kurt Weill's “Mack the Knife” and “I Hear A Symphony: Symphonic Sounds of Diana Ross” — which were strong but not too bold.

An arrangement of Cole Porter's “I've Got You Under My Skin” was carried by saxophone, which, unfortunately, was seriously under-miked.

The three songs Hilty sang to close the first half provided a chance to show different sides of her personality. The ballad “Autumn Leaves” was performed with winning sensitivity and lack of pressure.

“Popular” from “Wicked” was a hoot. Hilty, who replaced Kristin Chenoweth in the show's starring role just before she graduated CMU, is superb at comedy and charmingly colored her voice's upper register. “Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend” was more Carol Channing than Marilyn Monroe, strong and direct.

The second half was equally impressive. Hilty embraced the poignant qualities of “Second Hand White Baby Grand” from the television show “Smash,” in which she starred. The Gershwin brothers' “Someone to Watch Over Me” also was full of endearing nuances in both introspection and verbal nuance.

A hot arrangement of Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer's “Come Rain or Come Shine,” which was prepared for a famous Judy Garland concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City, was the final number. Starting with fast Latin drumming, the song, arrangement and Hilty's powerhouse performance brought the audience to its feet cheering.

This concert will be repeated at 8 p.m. June 20 and 21, and 2:30 p.m. June 22 at Heinz Hall, Downtown. Admission is $15 to $99.

Details: 412-392-4900 or www.pittsburghsymphony.org

Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or mkanny@tribweb.com.

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