An Evening with Kelli O’Hara

“Pure Imagination” (Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley) enters in watercolor and exists in airbrush. “When we share a theatrical space together it’s magic,” the artist gushes. It’s the kind of wafting sound we wonder whether we really heard. Kelli O’Hara is gifted. To superb control and warm tone, she adds captivating sincerity. “What More Do I Need?” (Saturday Night-Stephen Sondheim) bubbles up and over. Kaufman Hall seems to collectively relax. Stress dissolves as if under a spell.

The artist is late. “For the first time in my career, just ripped myself out of a dress whose zipper was stuck. While you all out here were  thinking I was a diva…” Admittedly shaken, O’Hara delivers the most gracious, amusing save I’ve seen. As luck would have it, she’d brought along a second dress.

Tonight’s program offers American Songbook, musical theater, and a smidge of opera. A refined “Always”(Irving Berlin) arrives hand above her breast as if pledging, borne on guitar so resonant, each note links to the next. Adam Guettel’s “Fable” (Light in the Piazza in which O’Hara played Clara) is rendered more melodic (no easy task) with Dan Lipton’s new arrangement. O’Hara faces the challenging music as if second nature.

Two songs traditionally performed by men seem not at all out of place. An exuberant “He (She) Loves Me” (Jerry Bock/Sheldon Harnick from the musical) sends arms up and out with a whoosh of surprise. “This Nearly Was Mine” (Rodgers & Hammerstein’s revival of South Pacific in which she played Nellie Forbush) evokes closed eyes, passion channeled into character embodiment. When the music surges, it’s organic, not notated. O’Hara’s voice is full-throated yet exhibits not a single frayed edge.

Kelli O’Hara with special guest John Holiday

Singing The Hours at the Met (Kevin Outs – in which O’Hara played Laura Brown) the artist connected powerfully with counter tenor John Holiday whom she asked to join her tonight. The two ably recreate Judy Garland/Barbra Streisand’s duet of “Happy Days” (Milton Ager/Jack Yellen) and “Get Happy” (Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler). It’s when they sing Leo Delibes’ “Lakme” (The Flower Duet)  however, that Holiday’s extraordinary voice in tandem with O’Hara’s vocal radiance virtually blankets the audience.

Staying “in the soprano realm,” O’Hara offers “So in Love” (Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate) “in honor of my friend Marin Mazzie” who played Katherine in the last revival. (The actress died in 2018.) Hands clasped, she epitomizes the role. There’s no obvious effort, no unsteadiness on high notes.

“I do love singing that soaring want, but sometimes it gets frustrating. This song was written for my friend Rebecca Luker. (The actress died in 2020.) “Not Funny” (Michael Heightsman) addresses the  disgruntlement of a soprano who never gets laughs. O’Hara delivers just the right tone. Filled with allusions to specific musicals, the Y audience “gets it” as well, not apparently a given elsewhere. It ends with “No matter how you try, you’ll never fucking sing this high- “C”-which she does.

Dan Lipton, Kelli O’Hara, Peter Donovan, Marvin Sewell, Emma Ford

“Sun Went Out” (O’Hara’s husband, Greg Naughton) “takes me back to my roots.” The performer’s special affection for country songs is apparent. Dropped g’s and easy sway feel natural. Lipton’s back up works well.

Jason Robert Brown’s “To Build a House” (The Bridges of Madison County in which O’Hara played Francesca) is a lengthy story/song. “I’m not from Napoli, but I was a farm girl.” The writer made his character an Italian opera singer and used details of his star’s life. Both emotionally and musically challenging, she brings it home.

With a nod to the recently deceased Burt Bacharach, O’Hara and Holiday sing a palpably affectionate “That’s What Friends Are For.” The artist then closes with a lovely “La Vie en Rose” (Edith Piaf-in French), her gift gloriously floating.

A single curious note: O’Hara inevitably sings with her eyes closed, depriving us of sharing.

Photos by Joseph Sinnott

Coming this spring: Days of Wine and Roses-the musical with Kelli O’Hara and Brian D’Arcy James- written by Adam Guettel; Book- Craig Lucas

An Evening with Kelli O’Hara
Special Guest John Holiday
Dan Lipton – MD/piano
Marvin Sewell – guitar, Peter Donovan – bass, Emma Ford – drums


About Alix Cohen (1720 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of ten New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, TheaterLife, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.