Special Interview: Kelli O'Hara At The Town Hall
Coming quick on the heels of last month's extensive acting-based discussion in BroadwayWorld's SPOTLIGHT ON THE NY POPS series, today we are again highlighting one of the brightest stars on Broadway and talking about all aspects of her stupendous and multi-faceted new album, ALWAYS - online and in stores next week - and, also, all about her solo concert at The Town Hall this Friday night, what surprises may be in store, and, additionally, what we can possibly expect from her onstage in the near future. BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY? FINDING NEVERLAND? What about Encores!? GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES? MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG? All are possibilities - just not Bartlett Sher's FUNNY GIRL! One thing is for sure: whatever Kelli O'Hara is doing, Broadway babies will be watching intently! In addition to tomorrow's gig at The Town Hall, Ms. O'Hara will also be a part of a benefit at Le Poisson Rouge on June 7 and featured on the A CAPITOL FOURTH PBS special alongside GLEE star Matt Morrison on July 4.
Finishing The Act
PC: ALWAYS is such a fantastic summer album - was that intentional? It has it all - and, all with a light touch.
KO: Yeah, the first album was pretty melancholy because the songs were chosen to do in the studio. But, see, this album - these are the songs I sing out for audiences in my show. These songs are more reflective of me and my personality. So, maybe I am a little bit lighter than the first album showed - and that certainly works for summertime, you know? (Laughs.)
PC: Speaking of lighter - weren't you pregnant when you recorded the first album?
KO: I wasn't, no. Actually, the first album came out in 2006, which was right before I got pregnant. I got pregnant in 2008. I was making it even before that, though - so, yeah, it was definitely sort of a whole different time in life where I sort of didn't know where I was. (Laughs.)
PC: The PIAZZA period.
KO: Yes. Yes. (Laughs.) I was in PAJAMA GAME at the time, actually.
PC: Your PAJAMA GAME co-star Harry Connick, Jr. wrote such beautiful liner notes for your new album.
KO: Yeah! I know. I so, so couldn't believe that. I asked him if he wanted to do it and then he came up with that and it just made me cry. He's just so generous to me and I really respect his genius musicianship. So, to have him write that for my album is so special to me. (Pause.) I'll have that forever.
PC: He is truly a musical genius. How interesting he chose "How Glory Goes" by your PIAZZA composer Adam Guettel as one of his favorite tracks.
KO: Of course! I love that about Harry - that he listened to the whole thing and, then, the ones that he chose were so... choice. (Laughs.)
PC: He has exquisite taste.
KO: Well, the interesting thing about it was that he chose my favorites! So, we have a similar taste, I guess.
PC: You jibe really well together - especially on the song he wrote for your first album, WONDER IN THE WORLD, and the great THOU SHALT NOT album that we spoke about last time.
KO: Thank you so much for that.
PC: Recording "Finishing The Hat". The orchestration is so subtle and beautiful - it's almost a reinvention of the song considering you are singing it, as well. It's like Dot doing it in some ways - and, of course, you have played Dot onstage. Was that the intention?
KO: Well, you know what? I was singing it kind of to myself and to my husband. To be honest, the reason I chose it is that that song moved me so much because of the subject matter of life right now - I mean, having a family.
PC: Could you elaborate on that?
KO: Of course, my husband and I are great, but, what I mean is that: trying to be a career person and trying to love and be passionate about this art-form and trying to do that while having a family and a new baby and a marriage - you know, you have to remind yourself of things. And, my husband is so good at that - at keeping me grounded. He keeps me from letting life go out the window - like in the song!
KO: You know, it is just like it is in the song: where you are so focused on your work that life is passing you by and you are losing things in your life. And, so, I try so carefully to not be that person, because my priority is my family first. So, that song means so much to me as a professional women.
PC: What a fascinating reading.
KO: Well, you know, I often say that men feel this way all the time, but women are, too - more and more, women are feeling that way, too. They are pulled by their passion, but they also want to be the mother and the wife in their household. So, that's what the song really means to me. It's really personal.
PC: You've really brought your life into your art - that's the point of the song, too, actually.
KO: I love it in the show, too - watching it from off-stage when I did the show - but, it really stands out all on its own if you really think about what the imagery is: it's not about a hat, it's about a passion. I think Sondheim was talking about writing musicals, actually.
PC: Indeed. I love the early Sondheim opener on the album, as well - in a completely different style from the first, with another fabulous new orchestration. And, a comedy song!
KO: Yeah, yeah, yeah! I just wanted to put in a comedy song because I do them in my shows and people love them. It makes it feel like one of my live concerts.
PC: So, a perfect compliment to your concert appearances - The Town Hall included.
KO: Definitely. (Laughs.)
PC: What can we expect from your show at The Town Hall? Will it be the whole album or are you going to change it up a bit?
KO: Yes, we are going to do some of it and leave some of it off. I am going to do some things that aren't on the album. I also have a couple of fun guests.
PC: Who are the special guests?
KO: Well, it's a surprise! My husband is always a guest - so, that's not a surprise. So, he's going to do a song or two with me. But, I am going to have some fun surprise guests, too - believe me! I can't tell you who.
PC: Can you give us all a hint?
KO: It will be fun! I don't wanna ruin it. It will be a quick fun part of the show where they just come on. That's all I'm gonna say. (Laughs.)
KO: You know, I'm not even sure. We're not sure we're going to do that only because it was a different arrangement - Jason played on my album; or, actually, his musician did. It's the only track on the album that's not with my band.
PC: Where did you record it? His studio?
KO: We recorded it at a studio in mid-town, actually. We had just done a reading of BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY and the song came from that show. So, literally, we said, "Let's put it down on a recording!" I didn't even know it would go on the album - we just wanted to get it down.
PC: Wow! A credit to your technical skill - even on a demo.
KO: Yeah, Jason, and the guy who played it at the reading - we all just did it. Then, of course, I got the track and heard it and I put it on the album.
KO: Yeah, I know - aren't those great lyrics? They are so great.
PC: Where did that song come from? It's not from a show, as far as I know.
KO: Actually, it's a really fun story: You remember how they had all those things around town for Stephen Sondheim's 80th birthday?
PC: A few years ago - of course.
KO: Yeah, so, Roundabout had had a big gala and their big thing was to ask, I don't know, six or seven lyricist/composer teams to write a song that was either inspired by Sondheim or about Sondheim - you know, something to honor him. So, Brian and Tom were in charge of writing one of the songs - the song I was supposed to sing. And, this one - you know, a lot of them were about Sondheim, but this one was actually Sondheim-esque; you know, it sounds like Sondheim.
PC: Very evocative. Like Jonathan Larson's "Sunday" parody.
KO: Yeah, they wrote it inspired by his own writing - and you can really hear it, too. You know, it's got those same kinds of turns in melody and it's got that sarcastic lyric - so, I was really proud that I got to premiere it and sing it.
PC: Michael John LaChiusa wrote a song for that benefit as well, I believe.
KO: Yes, he did - and, it was so great. In fact, he sang it. It was one of the ones that was about Sondheim, so it was really funny. He wrote all these lyrics and he sang it right to Sondheim - it was very funny. The whole night had so many different ideas in it.
PC: Are you a fan of LaChiusa's work?
KO: Oh, yeah! I love his stuff. I've always wanted to do a show of his. I did a reading of one - before it was SEE WHAT I WANNA SEE.
PC: You played the Actress, I assume?
KO: Yes, I did. I was filling in for Audra. So, she couldn't do it one day because she was filming something - she couldn't do the show eventually, anyway. But, that's when she was still attached, so I filled in for her for a time and I did it with her, too. It was just great to be a part of it. I am a big fan of his music, but it just hasn't fallen into place that we did a show together yet.
PC: That's one of my favorite scores of the twenty-first century.
KO: Ugh, I know! It's so gorgeous. I'm trying to remember what I did. Of course, Audra got to do "See What I Wanna See" and all that and then I did the other stuff.
PC: "Coffee" and Act Two.
KO: Yeah, I sang "Coffee"!
PC: Was it fun to get into the role of a coked-out LA actress?
KO: Yes! I loved it. I just loved it.
PC: Was it staged? Idina Menzel played it pretty full-tilt.
KO: No, no. This was just a reading of it - just standing for an audience. But, otherwise, that would have been so fun to get to act it out.
PC: What do you think about playing wild characters like that - do you like to totally escape your real life?
KO: Oh, I love it! A person like me - are you kidding? (Laughs.) I love to play things that are out-of-the-box. It's just that I don't always get the chance to do it!
PC: You can say that again.
KO: (Laughs.) Yeah, I've been playing a lot of wholesome all-American girls, so it's nice to get to play something a little rough.
PC: I was going to say...
KO: Yes, I actually played the Actress in SEE WHAT I WANNA SEE! Audra did the first half set in the 50s and I did the modern part, the second act.
PC: Did you enjoy singing the contemporary score with a pop influence?
KO: Well, you know, I love it. I don't know how everyone else felt about it - and, I know I don't sing like Idina or anything like that - but, I just try to make it what I can make it. I don't ever sing classically when I am singing a contemporary score - I kind of try to fit in whatever needs to happen. (Pause.) So, I loved it. I loved singing the songs and playing the role and it was a great thing for me to get to do. It was short, because I just did a reading, but I loved it.
PC: You'd be an amazing Queenie, too. Michael John's WILD PARTY is my favorite score of all-time, actually - or up there.
KO: Oh, my gosh - mine too! I was just...
PC: You saw it?
KO: Are you kidding me? I absolutely loved it so much. Actually, I had seen both WILD PARTYs that year - which was crazy for me. It was so weird to have two WILD PARTYs at the same time. I loved both of them - I really did; you know, most people liked one or the other. I really loved Brian d'Arcy James in the one and Idina; but, there is something so raw about Michael John's.
PC: And, so period-appropriate.
PC: You're a big fan.
KO: Yeah, I really am. I am a fan of both, really. It's hard to compare them. I saw the other one first and I loved Brian in it so much - but, I really loved Michael John's.
PC: The score is so spot-on.
KO: Oh, yeah. I remember looking at the performances - it was right when I moved to New York City - and I just enjoyed the crazy, dark performances of it. I don't listen to cast albums, really, so I can't tell you specifics about the scores or anything. But, it's one my favorite theatergoing memories.
PC: Are you a vinyl fan? I love the vinyl look of your album and the whole layout and style Robbie Rozelle did for you.
KO: He did such a great job and I just love that old style.
PC: It's such a real album experience - with two distinct sides and programmed and everything. Did you want that old school experience?
KO: Yeah, my grandfather left me a huge record collection and I love that old style. And, I remember records - just barely, but I do. (Laughs.) I thought it was a neat way to do it. When I saw that album graphic for the CD, I just thought, "Why not?" You know, the picture on the front kind of conjures up a 40s type of thing.
PC: And the title - ALWAYS - evokes a famous 40s tune.
KO: Come to think of it, one of these days I want to do a sort of concept-type, old fashioned-tyoe album, actually. When everything started coming together, I thought all the artwork and everything was such a great addition to the album.
PC: You and Harry are both throwbacks to the old days in a way. You were just born that way, right?
KO: Yep! I think you feel like you are just born that way - maybe we lived back in that time in other lives or something, if you believe in that. There's a part of me that believes I lived back in that time.
PC: Moving to the future: What's next for FINDING NEVERLAND?
KO: Well, we just another reading of FINDING NEVERLAND that went very, very well.
PC: What about BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY?
KO: BRIDGES is really set to go. They are working hard on it and getting it ready. They are writing very fast. It's such great stuff.
PC: What wonderful news for both shows‘ futures, then!
KO: Yeah, I think now it just comes down to timing and theaters and all kind of that stuff. I am looking forward to both. It is going to be so exciting.
PC: Where does BRIDGES start? LA?
KO: I think they want to go somewhere off the map a little bit. It's never going to be completely off the radar, but I think they want to start small - that's just what I've been told. I don't think LA.
PC: And, you have said the score is sublime - and the track on your album certainly rises to the occasion.
KO: The music is amazing - and, the song that is on my album isn't even my song! (Laughs.)
PC: Can you give us a preview of one of your character's songs, then?
KO: I can't, really - but I wish I could! My stuff in the show is so sort of drama-induced that they are not standalone songs - that's why I chose to do this song on my album because you could kind of pull that one out and sing it. My songs have a lot to do with furthering the plot. All I have done so far is the first act - and, there was a song missing. So, right now, I just have a lot of character stuff.
PC: How would you describe the score?
KO: It runs the gamut. Jason wanted to write classically in a way, but very earthy. There is even a country bend to some of the men's songs. But, he didn't want my part to be like that - my character is from Italy, so he wanted it to be more round-sounding; you know, a gentle, more classical kind of feel.
PC: So, you have an accent like Meryl Streep in the film?
KO: Yes, I used an accent for the reading. You know, I think that whatever the accent is it has to be very light. You know, the last time I played an Italian it was a very, very strong accent. So, with this, I think it has to be a combination - because she has been in America for sixteen years and she hasn't been home. So, I think she has lost a lot of it - but, it is huge in heart because she is missing Italy so much.
PC: Is it based on the film and the novel?
KO: They are not going with the movie much at all - they are really sticking to the book a lot. I think that when musicals are made, taking from the movie is the wrong thing to do because it is a different genre. For example: Bart Sher is text-based - when we did SOUTH PACIFIC we didn't watch the movie and with this we are not watching the film. I think Meryl Streep is one of the most brilliant actresses in the world, so I think it's a mistake to try to redo what she did. Plus, we are doing the younger version of the love affair - so, we're sticking closer to the words in the book.
PC: Everybody wants to know - and, speaking of Bart Sher - what about playing Fanny Brice in FUNNY GIRL sometime soon?
KO: No, no, no, no.
PC: Bart doesn't want you for the role?
KO: No, no, no. Not at all. I just think it's so funny that that has actually been written about because I am, like, the last person that is right for Fanny Brice - I am not even close to right for that role! I think, just because Bart and I have worked together several times that maybe people think that. But, Bart and I talk all the time, you know, and I say, "So, who are you thinking about?" and, he'll tell me names. But, I am not even close to being right for the role. I don't know who came up with it - but, it's not the right thing.
PC: It's a credit to your abilities - you are very versatile. You can do anything.
KO: Well, that makes me feel really good. I will take on any challenge. I mean, just like you said and what we were just talking about: I haven't gotten the chance to play a crack-head onstage, but if they gave me the chance, I'd do it!
PC: So, forget about FUNNY GIRL for you, then?
KO: Yes. I think the huge thing about FUNNY GIRL and Fanny Brice is that it should make a star out of someone. It should be an up-and-comer - just like Barbra Streisand was. I mean, I know she had been around for a little bit - but, FUNNY GIRL made her a star.
PC: So, what is Bart looking for in your estimation?
KO: I think he's looking for that - some young, unknown, Jewish girl from wherever. He's gonna make her a star - maybe the next Barbra Streisand. You know, I've already been in the ring for awhile.
PC: Of course Lea Michele did "Don't Rain On My Parade" at the Tonys last year and many say she is the front runner.
KO: Yeah, I don't think that's going to happen, either. I think that he wants to make it someone you don't know and that you are introduced to in this show.
PC: What about other iconic roles for you in the future: GYPSY?
PC: You have done many original musicals - more than many. What's the plan?
KO: Well, my plan is to change it up all the time! I just love doing that. I have been doing a lot of revivals, so now I want to do some new roles. Then, there are revivals that are talked about all the time. So, it's one of those things where I keep myself open. I definitely want to play the roles that one should play: I'd love to play Margaret Johnson in PIAZZA; I'd love to play Mama Rose someday - but, nowhere near now!
PC: Of course not.
KO: I think I have a long time before those things come into play, so I do want to always change it up. I want to work in different genres and mediums - opera, TV, film. So, I think it's just about recreating yourself and making yourself feel artistic and not just doing the same thing over and over and over again. As far as what roles I want to play: I don't know until they come creeping in. When the right production comes along...
PC: What about ENCORES! this year? What about GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES?
KO: I loved doing the BELLS ARE RINGING there last year. I loved getting the chance to play a role that I never get to play - you know, a Brooklyn busybody. And, Encores! is a great thing to do because it is a short run so you get to sort of just have a blast and then let it go. So, if that comes up I would love to do it. I don't have any plans to do it yet, but I would love to.
PC: Those are really the shows for the fans.
KO: Yeah, I had such a great time with everyone in the cast of BELLS - Bobby Cannavale!
PC: Newly minted Drama Desk-winner.
KO: I know! Oh, my gosh. He's just awesome. He just had a tiny role in the show but he was so much fun to be around. But, that's what it's about at Encores! It never gets old, so you remember it all in such a positive way. Plus, a lot of those move to Broadway, so you build something there, too, when you do those. So, that's really good, too.
PC: Speaking of fantasy casting: What about you, Raul Esparza and Neil Patrick Harris in MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG? I've now interviewed all three of you and they want to do it, so you can complete the triptych if you want to do it.
KO: Oh, that would be really fun! (Laughs.) OK!
PC: Are there any performers you really want to work with?
KO: Well, Matt Morrison and I are going to be singing on the Fourth of July thing at the Capitol coming up. So, getting to do that is awesome. There are so many people out there that are so awesome.
PC: What's your favorite YouTube clip of yourself and Matt?
KO: Oh, I love that performance of "Tonight" that I did with Matt. It was at Broadway Under The Stars and it was a beautiful night that night.
PC: What other events are coming up?
KO: We are doing this evening by The League Of Broadway Super-friends - as we call ourselves (Laughs.) - to raise money for pancreatic cancer. It's Sherie Rene Scott, Gavin Creel, Lindsay Mendez, and my husband Greg and me. We are doing it at Le Poisson Rouge on June 7.
PC: What is the theme of the event?
KO: Oh, it is all these five-part harmonies of all these old rock songs.
PC: Such as?
KO: Oh, we do Led Zepplin! It's gonna be a great time.
PC: What else is coming up for you?
KO: I'm doing a lot of solo shows and I am doing some big Boston Pops-type gigs and Tanglewood.
PC: What are you doing at Tanglewood?
KO: The Cole Porter show that I did at the Pops with Jason Daniely in Florida. We are doing that show. It will be fun.
PC: What songs are in the show?
KO: Oh, all the typical ones - I do "My Heart Belongs To Daddy" and Jason and I do a bunch of duets. I love the "So In Love" and "Always True To You In My Fashion" and "Let's Do it".
PC: What are you most looking forward to singing at The Town Hall?
KO: I'm looking forward to doing a couple of the new ones from the album - especially the Adam Guettel song that I can sing full out for the first time.
PC: Will you do the country star song? You must.
KO: Yes! (Laughs.) Of course.
PC: "The Party's Over" from BELLS ARE RINGING?
KO: You bet!
PC: You are awesome. Break a leg at The Town Hall and everywhere else! Have an amazing summer, Kelli.
KO: You, too! You are so great, Pat. Thank you so much. Again. Bye now.
From This Author Pat Cerasaro