By Mary Ann Bourbeau |
DEAL PARK – When Broadway star Kelli O’Hara takes the stage at the Axelrod Performing Arts Center’s Special Gala Concert on Oct. 28, she will do more than just sing songs from the myriad of shows she has appeared in.
“I always keep my sets personal,” she said. “I want the audience to know a little about the person behind the roles I have played. I love stepping out from behind my characters and telling my own stories through songs that I either want to try in a new way or songs I wouldn’t get to sing other wise.”
O’Hara said one of the songs she loves to sing is “Make Someone Happy,” a number written by Adolph Green and Betty Comden for the 1960 musical “Do Re Mi,” because she connects with the lyrics.
Fame, if you win it, comes and goes in a minute. “Where’s the real stuff in life to cling to? Love is the answer.
“That is everything to me,” said O’Hara.
A native of the Sooner State, O’Hara attended Oklahoma City University, where she earned a degree in music with an emphasis on vocal performance and opera.
“In my first couple of years, I still thought I might teach or even go to law school and be an entertainment lawyer because it seemed like the sensible thing to do,” she said. “I laugh now because I would be a terrible lawyer. I also thought about going into music therapy and helping people through music.”
She still has the opportunity to help people, as she did recently when she performed with her husband, singer/musician Greg Naughton, the son of Tony Award-winning actor James Naughton.
“He and I and his dad, James, and sister, Keira, recently did an evening of song to raise funds for pancreatic cancer research,” O’Hara said. “We sing together a lot, actually, and I sing one of his songs in every solo show I do.”
After winning the State Metropolitan Opera Competition, O’Hara moved to New York City and enrolled in the Lee Strasberg Institute. She studied at Juilliard and the Broadway Dance Center before making her Broadway debut in 2000’s “Jekyll & Hyde,” and followed that up with “Follies” and “Sweet Smell of Success.” She earned her first Tony and Drama Desk Award nominations in 2005 for “The Light in the Piazza;” more nominations followed when she starred in “The Pajama Game” with Harry Connick Jr., “South Pacific” at Lincoln Center, and “Nice Work if You Can Get It” alongside Matthew Broderick.
In 2014, she starred with Stephen Pasquale in an adaptation of the popular book, “The Bridges of Madison County,” por- traying Francesca, an Italian war bride living on a farm in 1960s Iowa.
“I had great help from a wonderful dialect coach named Deb Hecht, and it took a long time,” O’Hara said about nailing the Italian accent. “I did a lot of listening and adjusting to build a character that had grown up in one place and spent the next 18 years trying to assimilate into another.”
In 2015, O’Hara finally received that hard earned Tony Award for best leading actress in a musical for her portrayal of Anna Leonowens in Lincoln Center’s critically acclaimed revival of “The King and I.” But Broadway is far from all she has conquered. O’Hara has worked regionally and off Broadway and has made many television appearances, including a starring role as Mrs. Darling in NBC’s live telecast of “Peter Pan.” She sang in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of “The Merry Widow” with Renee Fleming, staged solo shows at Carnegie Hall and Town Hall and performed with symphonies and orchestras across the country.
So what does Kelli O’Hara say is her dream role?
“I’ll know it when I see it,” she said. “But Francesca was darn close.”
Kelli O’Hara will appear at the Axelrod Performing Arts Center at 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 28. Tickets are $75 to $125. A $180 ticket includes a pre-show reception and post-show artist meet and greet.
For more information, call 732-531-9106 or visit www.axelrodartscenter.com.
This article was first published in the Oct. 12-19, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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