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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 5, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 45
Kelli O'Hara a holiday gift for Seattle Men's Chorus
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Kelli O'Hara a holiday gift for Seattle Men's Chorus

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN Contributing Writer

Kelli O'Hara w/SMC
Holiday Glee
November 27-28
Benaroya Hall


Kelli O'Hara is one of the new breeds of Broadway stars: the up-and-coming talent that seems to have no limits. She is a three-time Tony Award nominee and has held her own, starring opposite such stage presences as John Lithgow, Harry Connick, Jr., and Matthew Morrison. Soon, she will be returning to Seattle to guest star in the Seattle Men's Chorus Holiday concert, Holiday Glee.

Eric Andrews-Katz: What or who influenced you to become a Broadway performer?

Kelli O'Hara: It was probably my vocal coach, Florence Birdwell, in Oklahoma City. She influenced me to be a professional signer. Broadway just came along.

Andrews-Katz: What was your first show in New York?

O'Hara: My first show on Broadway was Jekyll & Hyde, but the first show was in Sugarloaf, NY, just north of the city. It was Something's Afoot and the Butler Didn't Do It, a kind of musical version of Clue. I played the character Hope, and it was really fun. I was grateful to have it and made friends, many of whom I am still good friends with.

Andrews-Katz: What important lessons did you learn from your first Broadway experience?

O'Hara: I went from the touring company [of the musical] to the Broadway company just as it was getting ready to close. That always affects everyone. I learned the difference working as a professional on Broadway and what the ideal dream really is; that every day is a new audience and it's important to always have a positive attitude.

Andrews-Katz: John Lithgow is not known for his singing. How did it go co-starring in your first leading role, Sweet Smell of Success?

O'Hara: It comes down to something more than just singing. When you are a great actor, it's more about putting across a sound. Rex Harrison didn't sing, and yet he was in one of the greatest musicals [My Fair Lady]. You can lose the thought in song, so it's more important that you can get your thought across. Performing opposite John was a major master class and wonderful learning experience. I think he sings very well.

Andrews-Katz: Why do you think Dracula, the musical [157 performances], didn't have a longer run?

O'Hara: I think it had a lot of good intent. The technical aspects of it might have worked on stage, but the material might have been lacking. At first the audiences loved it, in almost a cult way. When the reviews came out, the audiences were told not to like us, so they didn't. When you do a show, you have to believe in it.

Andrews-Katz: The Light in the Piazza premiered in Seattle. Originally, you played the role of Franca. How did you move from that role into the lead Clara for the Broadway production?

O'Hara: I was with the reading/workshop from the beginning in Sundance. Adam Guettel [composer] originally had a different idea for a vocal range for the character Clara. Vicky Clarke [playing Clara's mother] was such an operatic singer, and they wanted the same for Clara. They wanted Clara to look like a woman while still having the mind of a child. By the time we hit Chicago [pre-Broadway], they wanted to go in a different direction. I sang for them and the change was made.

Andrews-Katz: The Light in the Piazza was your first (of two) roles opposite Matthew Morrison. What was your first impression of this Glee-ful man?

O'Hara: The show was cast except for Fabrizio. I'll never forget the day he came in, with such an air of confidence - so handsome and charming - that immediately they changed the role to suit him. It was written vocally higher, so they brought it down. He won everybody's heart. We went on to become such good friends.

Andrews-Katz: In The Pajama Game you starred opposite Harry Connick, Jr. What was the biggest on-stage flub that happened during the show?

O'Hara: I have to say we had a pretty smooth run. Not a lot of flubs. We had a 16-second costume change right before the song "There Once Was a Man," and we never got fully dressed. We were sometimes on stage singing while he was buckling his belt or I was buttoning my shirt - although I think that added to the flirtation of the song.

Andrews-Katz: When the revival of South Pacific opened at Lincoln Center, it was the first Broadway production since the 1949 original. Did you feel any extra pressures when playing Nellie Forbush?

O'Hara: It's interesting. I tried to stay out of that mind set. First of all, I never knew how many people came back who saw the original production. I knew it wasn't the same way Mary Martin had played the role - we are different. I got support and had confidence that they would forget about the original. I try never to put too much attention on previous versions - it ruins it. I've always tried to assume that this was never done before.

Andrews-Katz: What musical similarities/differences do you notice between grandfather/grandson when you sing songs by Richard Rodgers (South Pacific) and Adam Guettel (The Light in the Piazza)?

O'Hara: That's an interesting question. Adam will tell you that the last thing his grandfather (Richard Rodgers) told him was that he found his own voice. That's important. Adam doesn't sound like Rodgers; he sounds like himself. If it [the music] sounds similar, it's because Adam is doing homage. When you sing Rodgers' music, it's a round, classic feel of original sound. When you're singing Adam, it only represents the exact feeling of what you are singing at the time. He writes for the moment. Nothing ever sounds the same. It's brilliantly crafted. Both men are very different and very brilliant, in my opinion.

Andrews-Katz: How did you choose the songs you are singing with the Seattle Men's Chorus?

O'Hara: I spoke a little to Dennis [Coleman] about the songs I love to sing and that represent me. I chose a few and then put a few holiday songs in that would sound good with the chorus. We are also singing "A Wonderful Guy" [from South Pacific] with the boys being the guy. I am also putting in my favorite kind of song, called, "They Don't Let You in the Opera if You're a Country Star."

Andrews-Katz: What part of the holidays do you look forward to the most?

O'Hara: I'm kind of a purist. I'm not a big spender or commercial like that. My favorite part is being with my family, fireplaces, and great meals.

Andrews-Katz: On your CD, Wonder in the World, you sing some songs composed by Greg Naughton. Was it difficult to work with your husband on such a personal project?

O'Hara: No, it's kind of funny. When Greg and I work together, we have to laugh. When you are married, all the professional politeness goes out the window. He likes to hear his song "The Sun Went Out" when I sing it, because I do it differently. We get along fine, though, and he's very generous and professional to work with.

Andrews-Katz: If you could go back and create any leading role from any musical, male or female, which would it be?

O'Hara: I think I'm going to have to say the ultimate role, Margaret Johnson from The Light in the Piazza. I can honestly say that I wouldn't have done it as well as Vicky Clark. She is magic.

Andrews-Katz: After Seattle, what's next on your performing agenda?

O'Hara: I always have several little concerts here and there in December. In January, I'm doing the Kurt Weill musical, The Knickerbocker Holiday with the New York Philharmonic, directed by Ted Sperling.

Kelli O'Hara will be returning to Seattle to sing with Seattle Men's Chorus in their upcoming holiday concert, Holiday Glee. Like the holidays themselves, she is only a special guest star of the chorus for a limited time: the first weekend's performances only. With a beautiful appearance and an incredible voice to match, Ms. O'Hara is the perfect holiday gift and not something to be missed.

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