Megan Hilty may have been born in Seattle and now resides in New York City, but she affectionately called Pittsburgh her “second home” during her appearance with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Pops at Heinz Hall Thursday night.
It appears that her four years at Carnegie Mellon University provided the right springboard for a successful career on Broadway (“Wicked”), television (“Smash” and “Sean Saves the World” with Sean Hayes) and more.
In fact, it wasn’t really her first appearance with the orchestra. Ms. Hilty revealed that, while a CMU student, she sang with the PSO at a kid-friendly Fiddlesticks concert and had danced with its mascot cat.
The tiny blonde with the oh-so-big voice had the evening virtually all to herself this time and focused on those assets. She appeared in small song chunks throughout for a total of 12 numbers, while stylish conductor Steven Reineke led the orchestra in a number of blockbuster hits that were interspersed among her segments.
He, too, had a penchant for “big” numbers, including “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” with some curling tenor sax solos by Terry Steele, “Tico Tico,” where the percussion had a Latin field day, and his own driving arrangement of “Mack the Knife.” On another local note, Ms. Hilty brought her pianist, Suzanne Polak, who happened to be a graduate of Pittsburgh School for the Creative and Performing Arts.
Much of the program played up her hair color, during which she admitted that “I made a career out of playing blondes.” That meant starting with a “Blonde Overture,” a prelude to a couple of full renditions later from “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” where Ms. Hilty scored in a 2012 Encores! production.
But she didn’t care to imitate Marilyn Monroe...or Carol Channing, for that matter. There were a few breathy references in a smattering of her vocals, but this arrangement of “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” was designed to be a straightforward showstopper, with no less than two encores.
She seemed to have it all on her vocal plate -- from the standard jazz inflections of “The Best is Yet to Come” (which followed her acknowledgment of her pregnancy) to those popping high notes from the piquant/sassy “Popular” (Glinda, another blonde role) from “Wicked.”
And of course she had to include some songs (“They Just Keep Moving the Line” and “Second Hand White Baby Grand”) from the cult NBC TV series “Smash,” where she was involved in a competition for the lead in a musical based on -- who else? -- Marilyn Monroe.
Ms. Hilty doesn’t yet share a certain vulnerability with her audience -- after all, her face easily dissolves into a sunny smile. At this point in her burgeoning career, this diva-in-the-making is taking full advantage of her vocal arsenal, with a technique based on the pure physicality and penetrating clarity of her voice.
She is also one of the few singers who can shift into another gear. And she did that, oddly enough, by referencing a brunette, Judy Garland, in a spectacular Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer arrangement of “Come Rain or Come Shine” from the singer’s legendary Carnegie Hall concert in 1961.
There was none of Ms. Garland’s raw urgency. Instead this was a singer who effortlessly negotiated ticklish rhythms, changing meters and an escalating excitement to produce one of the most memorable moments in Pops history.
Former Post-Gazette critic Jane Vranish can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.