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Megan Hilty in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

By New York City
They're formidable shoes to fill -- having been worn by the likes of Carol Channing and Marilyn Monroe -- but as the Masterworks Broadway new recording of New York City Center Encores!' production of Jule Styne and Leo Robin's Gentlemen Prefer Blondes proves, Smash star Megan Hilty stepped into the heels of the quintessential flapper Lorelei Lee with consummate style. In the process, she makes this iconic role and the show's signature songs her own.

Not only do Hilty's renditions of the show's best-known numbers -- "A Little Girl From Little Rock" and "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend" -- have a terrific combination of gentle Southern charm, subtly conniving shrewdness, and delicately communicated dimness, they are also both followed -- on separate tracks -- by the encore verses of the songs. It's a small detail, but one which allows listeners to hear how the actress builds a number, and then tops it.

Fortunately, the CD also has other considerable charms and assets to recommend it, including the little-heard "Button Up With Esmond," which is one of Lorelei's goofiest and most delightful songs, as well as a bountiful amount of the show's dance music, such as a gorgeous orchestral interlude that runs almost seven minutes as Lorelei and BFF Dorothy (Rachel York) enjoy their arrival in Paris.

York's performance as Lorelei's earthier counterpart has also transferred beautifully from stage to disc. She nicely establishes the tone for this show set in the Roaring Twenties with her giddily naughty vocals on the opening number "It's High Time," and brings a superlative exuberance and slight sultriness to "I Love What I'm Doing" -- which establishes' Dorothy's credo when looking for a guy.

Alongside the leading ladies are grand performances from Clarke Thorell, playing Lorelei's boyfriend Gus, who brings a real period sound his vocals on both "Bye Bye Baby" and the show's title number; Aaron Lazar, as the wealthy if shy Henry Spofford who falls for Dorothy, whose rich baritone seems to shimmer during "Just a Kiss Apart;" and Simon Jones, who nails every silly joke alongside Hitly in "It's Delightful Down in Chile," a Latin number that unfurls as Lorelei works her charms to secure some much-needed cash from the lecherous Sir Francis Beekman.

Conductor Rob Berman's fine work with the orchestra and the ensemble results in a sound that's both brash and sparkling. He has also contributed a fine essay about songwriter Hugh Martin's vocal arrangements for this and other shows as part of the handsome book that accompanies this remarkably satisfying recording.


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