Kelli O’Hara has unequivocally established herself as one of Broadway’s leading ladies.
An Oklahoma native, O’Hara received her degree in opera, and after winning the Oklahoma State Metropolitan Opera Competition, she moved to New York City where she made her Broadway debut in Jekyll & Hyde. She followed that up with an appearance in Sondheim’s Follies before being personally hired by Marvin Hamlisch to perform in his musical, Sweet Smell of Success.
O’Hara earned her first Tony and Drama Desk nominations in 2005 for her Broadway performance in Light in the Piazza and, in 2006, she joined Harry Connick, Jr. in the Tony-award winning production of The Pajama Game. After starring in the Tony-winning revival of South Pacific at Lincoln Center, O’Hara teamed up with Matthew Broderick in the Broadway musical, Nice Work if You Can Get It.
Kelli O’Hara’s 2015 Broadway performance in The Bridges of Madison County earned her nominations for a Tony, Drama Desk, Drama League, and Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical, and her portrayal of Anna in The King and I earned her the 2015 Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical.
O’Hara has also been seen regularly on television, making appearances on All My Children, Blue Bloods, and many other shows including the role of Mrs. Darling in NBC’s live telecast of Peter Pan, in addition to being cast in the hit Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why.
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Along with numerous original cast recordings, Kelli O’Hara has released two solo albums — Always and Wonder in the World — but on Saturday, October 28, 2017, she made a special live concert appearance at the Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Deal Park, NJ in a gala presentation entitled Kelli O’Hara in Concert!
As we wait in the Axelrod PAC lobby for tonight’s performance to begin, we chat with several fans, here to enjoy Kelli’s up-close-and-personal performance here at the Jersey Shore.
States Alan from Freehold, “We’ve gone to New York City to see Kelli O’Hara in South Pacific, The King and I, and Nice Work If You Can Get It, but I’ve always wanted to see who Kelli O’Hara is — and tonight she is performing as herself — not as a character. That’s why we’re here.”
Alan’s wife, Michelle, concurs, adding, “I just love her voice. And she’s a real triple threat as a singer, a dancer, and an actor! Her voice really projects, so I’m looking forward to hearing it here at the Axelrod — a small theater with excellent acoustics.”
Maryanne from Spring Lake agrees, commenting, “I just love Kelli O’Hara! I’ve seen her on Broadway in The King and I and Bridges of Madison County, and she has one beautiful voice!”
Likewise, Debbie from Farmingdale remarks, “I saw Kelli O’Hara on the Tony Awards when she gave her acceptance speech and I thought ‘Wow!’ — I just loved her perkiness, and she did some dancing, too. And I recently saw Broadway’s Sutton Foster when she performed here at the Axelrod — it’s such a cute, small theater — so I decided to get tickets to see Kelli O’Hara at this wonderful Jersey Shore venue.”
As the lights in the lobby dim, we make our way into the cozy Axelrod PAC auditorium to take our seats.
Looking stunning in a strapless black gown, Kelli O’Hara enters to applause as her pianist, Dan Lipton, begins to play the ballad, “To Build a Home.”
In this splendid number from Bridges of Madison County, Ms. O’Hara tells the story of how a person builds herself a home with her glorious voice and her expressive face.
Singing, “At twenty-one, a girl begins/To grasp the world and how it spins/She grabs a box of safety pins/And builds herself a home/And home is safe, and home is fair/The porch, the bath, the kitchen chair/The sharp and unfamiliar air/That blow by blow/She comes to know/To build herself a home,” O’Hara delights the audience with her resonant vocals and emotional performance.
Lipton’s grand piano fills the auditorium with beautiful sound as Ms. O’Hara gives an animated and charming performance of “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy” from Broadway’s Oklahoma.
Following animated applause, O’Hara thanks the audience acknowledging, “I’m from Oklahoma, so I know a thing or two about singing Rodgers and Hammerstein songs!”
Surprising the audience by singing a number usually performed by Tuptim — and not Anna — in Broadway’s The King and I, O’Hara performs a lovely rendition of “I Have Dreamed,” her clear soprano voice floating as she sings this gorgeous love song.
After revealing that she did not have a lot of arts training growing up in her small town in Oklahoma, she smiles when she admits, “But there’s now a performing arts center in Elk City — The Kelli O’Hara Center of the Performing Arts!”
O’Hara reveals that, over the course of her youth, she gained experience singing “at weddings and funerals” and she shares that experience with the Axelrod crowd by performing a song she sang at many weddings — Irving Berlin’s “Always.”
Acknowledging that when she first decided to try to make it in New York, she arrived “with two suitcases, no job, and no prospects.” With regards to being cast in her first show, she performs a tune from Sondheim’s Saturday Night which exemplifies her early feelings about New York — a sparkling rendition of “What More Do I Need?”
Singing, “A wall of rain as it turns to sleet/The lack of sun on a one-way street/I love the grime all the time/And what more do I need?/My window pane has a lovely view/An inch of sky and a fly or two/Why, I can see half a tree/And what more do I need,” O’Hara delights the audience with her impressive talent.
Changing the mood, O’Hara dedicates her performance of “That’s How I Say Goodbye” to Marvin Hamlisch, with whom she worked in his production of Sweet Smell of Success. Her voice soaring and floating at the same time, her poignant performance leaves the Axelrod audience breathless.
“Fable” — a story-song sung by Margaret in Light in the Piazza — is the next moving ballad performed by O’Hara. On this number, Lipton’s piano marches along as O’Hara’s voice spins the story singing, “No! No! Love’s a fake/Love’s a fable/Just a painting/On a ceiling/Just a children’s fairy tale” before going on to add, “And still you have to look and look and look and look…”
After appreciative applause, O’Hara tells a true-life story about meeting songwriter Sammy Cahn’s wife, a woman who — after hearing Kelli sing one of her husband’s songs typically sung by male vocalists — said to O’Hara, “You need to sing more man songs!”
Following Mrs. Cahn’s advice, O’Hara performs the Sammy Cahn classic made famous by Frank Sinatra, ”All The Way,” Lipton’s piano tenderly caressing each note as Kelli sings.
Following the uptempo and amusing “He Loves Me’ from She Loves Me, O’Hara performs one of the highlight numbers of the evening — her rendition of Sondheim’s “Finishing the Hat,” from Sunday in the Park with George. Her outstanding diction on display, O’Hara shows superb control of her vibrato as she effortlessly crescendos and decrescendos through the ebb and flow of this magnificent composition.
Her voice sometimes soaring to operatic heights — but, at other times, singing softly and gently — O’Hara performs with great emotion on a moving ballad from South Pacific, “This Nearly Was Mine.”
Changing things up, Kelli performs a folk-rock tune written by her husband, musician Greg Naughton, which she says is “about getting your head out of your phone or your work.” Entitled “The Sun Went Out,” O’Hara is not only accompanied by Lipton’s piano, but by his harmony vocals as well.
Moving on to a piece she composed herself before she ever had children, O’Hara sings a lullaby entitled “I Love You the World” — an expression her mother often spoke to her — dedicated to her young son.
This sweet song about a mother’s love for her child connects deeply with members of this audience.
Another high point of the evening is the enormously funny original number by pianist Dan Lipton, “They Don’t Let You in the Opera (If You’re a Country Star).”
Putting on a cowgirl hat and singing about the misadventures of a country singer who longs to be an opera diva, O’Hara shows her sharp comedic skills as well as her considerable vocal talents as the song criss-crosses genres from country crooning to world-class opera singing, all in the span of just a few glorious — and wildly hilarious — moments.
Moving on to a sincere ballad composed by Betty Comden, “Make Someone Happy,” O’Hara reveals she once had the thrill of personally singing this song to Ms. Comden. Her connection to the song shining through as she connects with the audience, Kelli O’Hara makes this audience happy as the crowd rises to its feet for a well-deserved standing ovation!
After taking leave of the stage, O’Hara and Lipton return to conclude the evening’s festivities with what O’Hara refers to as “something quick, fun, and fabulous.” Singing “I Could Have Danced All Night,” as O’Hara breezes through the number, she shares her joy of music with everyone in attendance.
The audience members respond — yet again — by cheering on their feet!
As the crowd makes its way out of the auditorium and into the lobby, several music lovers share their reactions with us to Ms. O’Hara’s performance this evening.
Comments Sheila from Monmouth County, “The depth of Kelli O’Hara’s voice is amazing! She’s a natural. She connects with the audience. It’s nice we can have this quality of music right here in Deal!”
Likewise, Lesley from Tinton Falls, remarks, “Kelli O’Hara is a breath of fresh air — she’s a real modern-day Julie Andrews or Mary Martin.”
Rosalee from Interlaken states, “This concert was lovely. Kelli O’Hara is not just a singer — she’s an entertainer! She exuded so much warmth and we really enjoyed it — it was something unique.”
Linda from Interlaken agrees adding, “My favorite number was ‘They Don’t Let You Into the Opera,’ in addition to the song her husband wrote — ‘The Sun Went Out’ — where you could really feel her entire soul in that number.”
Likewise, Haley from Howell calls Kelli O’Hara, “Amazing, and very talented,” before adding, “and ‘They Don’t Let You Into the Opera’ was just hysterical!”
Joseph from Howell concurs, stating, “Kelli O’Hara’s voice is gorgeous. She sang so many different genres. I cried five times.”
Anne-linn — in Deal Park tonight on a visit from Norway — comments, “I enjoyed Kelli O’Hara very much! She has an incredible range. I enjoyed all the different genres she performed, and I especially enjoyed this evening’s unique concert format — taking songs and stories and making them so up-close-and-personal.”
Similarly, Judy from Ocean Township comments, “Kelli O’Hara’s personal stories were so intimate! And when she sings, you find a whole new part of yourself in your soul,” adding, “Kelli O’Hara truly spoke to me tonight.”
Lastly, we chat with Maya from Howell who — in reference to Kelly O’Hara’s performance tonight — simply smiles and quips, “I love her so much, it’s an issue!”
To learn more about Kelli O’Hara please click on kelliohara.com. For information on upcoming performances at Deal Park’s Axelrod PAC — including Disney’s Beauty and the Beast from Dec. 9–17, 2017 and Ragtime on Mar. 3–25, 2018 — please go axelrodartscenter.com.Photos by Love Imagery
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