Stars Megan Hilty, Gregory Treco and Betsy Wolfe made for a week to remember on metro stages
At her gala concert Friday for Central City Opera, Broadway star Megan Hilty playfully asked the crowd if they’ve heard of a little musical called Wicked, “the untold true story of the witches of Oz.” Actually, that story has now been told more than 6,400 times on Broadway alone. And the national touring production returns for a whopping sixth visit to Denver from May 8 to June 9.
Still, “for those of you who haven’t seen Wicked, it’s about a beautiful blonde girl who changes lives,” joked Hilty, who played the good witch Glinda on Broadway. [It’s also a little bit about how her misunderstood friend Elphaba came to be the Wicked Witch of the West.] Hilty then performed the show’s signature tune, “Popular,” to a delighted capacity crowd at the Stanley Marketplace.
After her set, Hilty talked about the enduring appeal of Wicked in an exclusive exchange with the DCPA NewsCenter. “On top of the gorgeous music and iconic characters that we all know and love, Wicked is a story about the underdog,” she said. “Everyone knows what it feels like to be underestimated and misunderstood. It is extremely empowering to watch someone embrace the things that make them unique – and it’s also a wonderful reminder to never judge a book by its cover.”
Hilty’s was one of three Denver metro appearances last week by big-name Broadway performers, including Betsy Wolfe (Waitress) performing at a fundraiser for the Aurora Fox, and Aurora’s own Gregory Treco (Hamilton) headlining a wild concert and variety show at the Clocktower Cabaret benefiting Rainbow Alley, the GLBT Community Center of Colorado’s youth division.
We interviewed Wolfe and Treco before their Denver appearances. Here’s more of what Hilty said after her show, followed by our brief recaps of all three events:
John Moore: Do you have any specific connection to opera that made your appearance here for Central City Opera more meaningful to you?
Megan Hilty: I am a huge fan of opera. I grew up training to be a classical singer and dreamed of being an opera singer one day. I even attended a summer program at the San Francisco Opera Arts Training Program for young girls when I was 16. That experience changed my life and made me realize that a career as a vocalist was a real possibility. When I found out Central City Opera has a similar program for young singers, I immediately wanted to be a part of this special evening.
John Moore: Your NBC drama “Smash” was seminal TV show for introducing musical theatre to millions of new fans across the country. What do you think its legacy is?
Megan Hilty: I am extremely proud to have been a part of a production that brought Broadway performances into people’s homes. I am not exaggerating when I say that I am stopped every day by strangers wanting to know what is going to happen next for “Smash.” I think it’s amazing that even though we’ve been off the air for years, people still deeply care about those characters, stories, production numbers and incredible original music.
John Moore: Where can we look for you next?
Megan Hilty: I have a PBS concert special that will air on May 24. It was filmed in the gorgeous Appel Room in New York City, and it turned out so beautifully. I can’t wait for everyone to see it. [Editor’s note: The taping is for the second season of PBS’ Stars in Concert performance series. The May 17 episode will feature Colorado native Annaleigh Ashford.] I also just finished a TV movie about Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn that will air on Lifetime in the fall. I play Patsy and got to sing several of her iconic songs. I also have several animated series starting to air this summer and tons of concerts coming up.
The three concerts in brief: Megan Hilty
Hilty’s self-deprecating set on April 26 lovingly covered the seminal roles of her career to date by singing “Popular” from Wicked, four songs from “Smash,” two from “Nine to Five” and two connecting back in various ways to her “Smash” alter ego, Marilyn Monroe. She charmed the crowd while singing Emily Skinner’s comic medley “Alto’s Lament” and sang a bluesy duet version of “That’s Life” with pianist Matt Cusson. She hit the crowd hardest in their heart muscles with a song many had probably not heard before: “Second Hand White Baby Grand” is an original song from “Smash” written by Broadway legends Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman for the series’ musical-within-a-musical, Bombshell. The song is based on a true story Hilty told the crowd about Monroe’s relationship with her mother and the piano the movie star inherited from her (and is now, BTW, owned by Mariah Carey). Hilty was utterly nonplused when a fan who also happened to be a Central City Opera board member unexpectedly joined her on the stage.
- “They Just Keep Moving the Line” (from “Smash”)
- “Popular” (by Stephen Schwartz, from Wicked)
- “Backwoods Barbie” (by Dolly Parton)
- “Nine to Five” (by Dolly Parton)
- “I Could Have Danced All Night” (from My Fair Lady)
- “Alto’s Lament” (by Emily Skinner)
- Medley: “There’s No Business Like Show Business” (by Irving Berlin); “Moonshine Lullabye” (from Annie Get Your Gun); ” ‘S Wonderful” (by George Gershwin, from Funny Face); “They Say It’s Wonderful” (from Annie Get Your Gun); “I Got the Sun in the Morning” (from Annie Get Your Gun)
- “That’s Life” (“Smash” duet version performed with Matt Cusson)
- “Second Hand White Baby Grand” (from “Smash”)
- “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” (from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes)
- “Don’t Forget Me” (from “Smash”)
- “Let Me Be Your Star” (from “Smash”)
The Eaglecrest High School grad came home April 22 with not even 24 full hours off from Hamilton on Broadway to headline “Fabaganza,” an event organized by his high-school classmate Julia Tobey and her company, Give 5 Productions. The event supported Rainbow Alley, “a safe and brave space supporting LGBTQ youth and their allies ages 11 to 21.”
Treco chose three songs he said “speak to my – and hopefully everyone’s – experience growing up and discovering one’s true self. One song questions where do I fit in and belong; the second represents the discovery of self; and the third speaks to it all being OK in the end.” He was accompanied on piano by Reggie Berg.
- “Corner of the Sky” (by Stephen Schwartz, from Pippin)
- “For Forever” (by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, from Dear Evan Hansen)
- “Feeling Good” (by Nina Simone)
Wolfe, like Hilty, encountered lengthy travel delays getting to Denver, but that didn’t stop her from fulfilling a pre-concert commitment to teach a three-hour master class for 18 vocal students from The Academy by Divabee in Fort Collins. And get this: It was Wolfe’s idea. Wolfe, as she later told the Aurora Fox crowd, loves to teach classes in cities she visits. “When she knew she was coming to Colorado, she reached out to her old college roommate Kelsey Kaufman, who now lives in Colorado, about who she should contact, and Kelsey directed her to me,” said Henry Award-winning actor Jalyn Courtenay Webb, who owns The Academy by DivaBee. “Kelsey was one of my first voice students when I was in college. When Betsy reached out to me, I was so thrilled to have the opportunity to bring her to northern Colorado.”
The class was held at the Candlelight Dinner Playhouse in Johnstown. Wolfe worked individually with each student, ages 12 to 22 and from all over Colorado. “The students were completely engaged, and Betsy was warm, kind, engaging and an absolute delight,” said Webb, who thanked Wolfe with a cold-press coffee pie – a nod to her starring role in Broadway’s Waitress. It was made with coffee from Bindle Coffee and baked by Ginger and Baker of Fort Collins. And here’s another small-world coffee tale: At her concert on April 27 , Wolfe put in a plug for another Fort Collins coffee company called Café Richesse. Wolfe said she has coffee delivered from Café Richesse to her home in New York.
Wolfe also told the small-world story of how she came to get the Colorado gig in the first place. Turns out she grew up with the Aurora Fox’s Beau Bisson back in Visalia, Calif. She also was encouraged to take the offer by last year’s gala headliner, Alex Brightman, who this past week opened in the starring role of the new Broadway musical Beetlejuice (which Wolfe also attended on opening night).
Wolfe, who came to the Denver Center in 2017 to appear in a special concert performance of Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years, opened her self-effacing set with a charming song called “Please Like Me” by Frozen composers Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. She later sang “Summer in Ohio” from The Last Five Years and Sara Bareilles’ “What Baking Can Do” from Waitress.
Wolfe explained that while she has never toured with Waitress, she told the audience that was her face they saw all over Denver on promotional posters for the show’s national touring stop here. In New York, she said, “My face was on every trash can in the city – and my dad was so proud.”
Another highlight was Brown’s “Love, Betsy” which Wolfe intermingled with (real, she said) comic letters from her own childhood. Wolfe was accompanied by Meg Zervoulis, Musical Director of the current Broadway hit musicals Mean Girls and The Prom.
Wolfe also put in a pitch for supporting arts education, saying: “Lord knows if it’s not going to be in the schools then we need to put it out there in the community ourselves.”
- “Please Like Me” (cut song from the musical Up Here by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez)
- “What Baking Can Do” (by Sara Bareilles, from Waitress)
- “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” (from Pal Joey)
- “I Love Betsy” (from Honeymoon In Vegas by Jason Robert Brown)
- “Landslide” (by Stevie Nicks)
- “Taylor, the Latte Boy” (by Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich)
- “Summer in Ohio” (by Jason Robert Brown, from The Last Five Years)
- “You, the Mountain and Me” (by Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott from a developing new musical)
John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S. by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.