“I still can’t believe they let me do that,” says Megan Hilty of bringing her solo concert to Live From Lincoln Center’s Stars in Concert. “It’s crazy.”
On May 24, when the concert airs on PBS, Hilty brings her big belt—and even bigger heart—to the New York City’s Appel Room and songs from 9 to 5, Wicked, Smash, and more.
“’I’m not exaggerating when I say every single day I’m stopped by strangers asking me about the future of Smash,” she says. And while she doesn’t have any insights into Bombshell or a reboot, she will sing from the repertoire of Ivy Lynn.
But mostly, Hilty relishes the opportunity to introduce America to her family, aka her band. “I’m desperately in love with my band,” she says. “I hope they can feel these aren’t just people that we’ve hired to play a couple songs; this is my family.” And that family consists of her husband, Brian Gallagher, on guitar, Matt Cusson, her music director on piano, Dennis Michael Keith on bass, and Jack DeBoe on drums. “We are lucky enough that we get to go around the whole world together doing this music. I’m so beyond thrilled we got to capture that on film in this beautiful way.”
Here, Hilty breaks down five songs in her Live From Lincoln Center set list, the stories behind them, and why she loves singing like a true soprano.
“Backwoods Barbie”/“9 to 5” by Dolly Parton
“My parents exposed me to all kinds of music when I was little, including Dolly Parton. But once I got older that's when I really started to appreciate Dolly and her incredible music, her lyrics, just her as a person. I'm just completely obsessed with her, everyone is. The thing that I always take away from that experience was watching how she conducted herself. She gets her work done and she gets everybody to do what they need to do but at the same time she does it in a way that's completely respectful. Every situation that I'm in I constantly ask myself how she would conduct herself because I think she should be the standard.
“‘Backwoods Barbie,’ I see it as Dolly’s anthem. It’s all about not judging a book by its cover. If you take a minute to really get to know somebody, you'll see that there's many different layers to a person."
“They Just Keep Moving The Line” by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman
“‘Moving the Line’ is one of my all time favorite songs. I will never not sing that song. I know [Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman] had to write it very quickly. I think they wrote it in 12 hours or something. I think a lot of perfect songs end up being written like that; with almost unrealistic parameters. It’s just a perfectly written song on a technical standpoint and then lyrically, I think it's genius. It's all about the underdog, which is something we all can identify with, too. Just trying desperately to get ahead and feeling like for whatever reason or another, life just is not letting you. It’s also an old-school type of [style] that I do. Hear her sing a clip of it below.
“Heart of the Matter” by Don Henley
“I've always loved that song and I've always been drawn to it. Back while I was on Smash, when I was working on my first studio record with producer Andy Zulla, and it was going to be all songs from the movies, we were both listening to all these amazing songs from film scores and he kept bringing up ‘Heart of the Matter.’ He said he thought that one was really great and it was his idea to slow it down. It actually became my favorite song on the record.
“I’m really precious with my ballads. I don’t do very many because I want them to be important and I want you to really listen to them. I chose to do ‘Heart of the Matter’ over ‘Second Hand White Baby Grand’ because it was something that was very important to me when I recorded it a million years ago. It’s not just one person [I think of], it’s several different people I can pull from and really I’m thinking about other people’s relationships in my life. The reason why I love that song is because I think everybody can relate to it. Everybody knows what it’s like to end a relationship and try to figure out how to move on. These lyrics are so painfully honest about trying to move on, but it’s hard. It’s also a positive breakup song. I feel like so many breakup songs are just about heartbreak and this is saying, ‘Yeah, it’s hard, but I’m trying to figure out the next chapter. Without you in it.’
“It’s forgiveness. It’s the whole reason why we slowed it down in the first place was to highlight the lyrics. It is written musically perfect to highlight forgiveness too. There’s silence after [that lyric] so you can actually hear it, and it can land. I'm not moving on to something else big. I think that’s the most powerful part of the song because I think that's the hardest part of breaking up.” Hear her sing a clip of it below.
“I Could’ve Danced All Night” by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe
“I started out wanting to be an opera singer. I went to opera camp, I did all these classical things growing up and when I went to Carnegie Melon I thought, ‘This is great, I’ll be the ingenue, the soprano.’ Then they started making me realize people aren’t writing these roles anymore [and I needed to] learn how to belt. I spent those four years at school figuring out how to do that, but every once in awhile I keep saying, ‘But I am a soprano, I really am.’ That’s who I am in my heart. In my shows, I like to throw that in as a reminder, ‘Hey, this is what I really wanted to do.’ I played [Eliza] in community theatres. The role is spectacular and the songs are insanely perfect.
“Now, my aim has shifted and I really think that the roles that I’ve grown into are more suited to my personality. The belting ladies always have more fun. Although any time a soprano role comes up and I’m like, ‘I’d like to do that. I’d love to be in Secret Garden.’ They say, ‘You don’t sing like that.’ And I’m like, ‘I played Glinda!’ People don’t see that role as a soprano role for some reason, I’m still baffled by that.
“For Good” by Stephen Schwartz
“I was the standby for Jennifer Laura Thompson and Idina [Menzel] was still there. When I got the phone call saying you have two hours until your Broadway debut... that was insane. I sat in Jennifer’s dressing room kind of freaking out and Idina came in and she said, ‘Is there anything you want to talk about or go through? You know what, let’s just go out there and make this show our own tonight.’ I will never forget that. By the time we were singing ‘For Good’ at the end of that night, I couldn’t believe it. That whole night was like a dream.
“In a business that people like to assume that women don't like each other, that we're all out to get each other, the friendships that I have with the women that I’ve worked with are ones that will last my whole life, which is why I wanted to do ‘For Good’—but not just the standard way that it’s done. I’ve always wanted to do it as a trio with my two main Elphabas that are still two of my best friends: Shoshana Bean and Eden Espinosa. I asked Shoshana, who is a master music arranger, to arrange it for the three of us to do. That was really important to me: that if I was going to have one opportunity do this song on television my way, it was going to be with the two ladies that were essentially my Elphabas for the four-and-a-half years that I played Glinda.”