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Review: THE NEW YORK POPS featuring Kelli O'Hara brings Carnegie Hall BACK HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS

One Broadway Mom helps out another when Kelli O'Hara steps in for Laura Benanti

Review: THE NEW YORK POPS featuring Kelli O'Hara brings Carnegie Hall BACK HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS

If you've ever uttered the words "Bah Humbug" and meant it, this is not the show for you. If you've ever been referred to as a "Scrooge", look elsewhere for your entertainment. This performance was nothing but sheer holiday delight. After 22 months of not presenting any works on stage, the New York Pops are back and ready to fill your hearts with magic, and the cherry on this sundae was the incomparable Kelli O'Hara. She is a true show biz pro, filling in for the scheduled Laura Benanti (absent due to a family exposure to Covid) with fewer than 4 days' notice. Before I venture into the breakdown of separate pieces, let this reviewer offer that when you are a huge Broadway star, with a family, and several jobs, at holiday time, and are asked to fill in on 10 different numbers of varying orchestrations and arrangements, there is no shame in referring to a prompter on the occasion of a lyrically loquacious number such as The Man with the Bag. If this were a self-contained cabaret act plugged into a space left empty by another artist's act, I might have some choice words. That being said, it took nothing away from the uncomplicated joy of the evening's festivities.

Speaking of "Festive"... holy cow! Kelli's gowns! Ms. O'Hara even mentions that her first (of 4 that evening) was lent to her by Ms. Benanti; it was a smashing, brilliant red, floor-length gown with a plunging V exposing the decolletage. With all of her concert and red carpet experience, Kelli knows how to choose (and wear) a gown. Thank you Oscar de la Renta for the silver Greek Goddess image. For more photos of Kelli's gowns, click HERE.

Review: THE NEW YORK POPS featuring Kelli O'Hara brings Carnegie Hall BACK HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS

The evening had a well-balanced mixture of traditional and modern, secular and sacred. To jump into the program, the orchestra presented a wonderful Holiday Overture that set the tone for the entire evening. What a glorious sound! Lest we need a reminder that this is not a band; it's an orchestra. Other standouts from the amazing ensemble of musicians conducted by Steven Reineke were the jaunty Sleigh Ride including a swing section; Carol of the Bells with an introduction reminiscent of Danny Elfman and an arrangement that subtly hid the ever-popular (and sometimes monotonous) melody that can hit you over the head; and a modern orchestration of Three Ships replete with a buttery french horn. The arranger (Matthew Jackfert) was present in the audience and awarded a well-deserved spotlight and round of applause.

Kelli gave thanks and homage to Barbara Cook several times throughout the night, including singing her versions of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and The Christmas Song, in both instances doing the icon proud. An added treat was Brandon Michael Nase making his Carnegie Hall debut with a duet of Count Your Blessings from White Christmas, making an amalgam of their two mellifluous voices. Brandon is the founder and Executive Director of "Broadway for Racial Justice", on the Advisory Board of which both O'Hara and Benanti sit. Mr. Nase had his solo moment in the spotlight with This Christmas, bringing some clarion high notes to the party.

The final two pieces of the holiday concert were so well placed and emotionally rendered that they brought a tear to my eye (and down my cheek). Ms. O'Hara's presentation of O Holy Night (which can tend toward predictability) was spectacular due in part to the loyal partnering by Steven Reineke and his hawkish attention to the soloist. Included in the number was the carol's 3rd verse, rarely heard by most, as a lovely call and reminder to our society to love one another, seek peace, and end all oppression - appropriate for any human being, regardless of the season or religious followings. After her final note (I believe a stratospheric E above high C), the audience leaped to their feet, and rightly so. As if that weren't enough (I assumed, and the program declared, we would literally end on a high note), the audience settled, the orchestra slowly and quietly began playing, and Kelli and Brandon sang the most touching and haunting rendition of Auld Lang Syne. Having been through the last two years on this planet, it was a solemn and introspective moment, a communal healing of sorts. This final bow could not have been more apropos for this stellar team of vocalists and musicians in such a hallowed hall as Carnegie, at such a time in history, and during this season of peace and goodwill.

For the calendar of Carnegie Hall's season, click HERE

For more info on Kelli O'Hara, click HERE

To learn more about Brandon Michael Nase, click HERE

Photos in this article were provided by Genevieve Rafter Keddy.

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