BWW Interview: Kelli O'Hara Discusses Her Solo Shows at Cadogan Hall
Kelli O'Hara is a star Off and on Broadway, in the West End, on television, on film, and even sang with The Metropolitan Opera. After being nominated five times over the course of her career, she finally won a Tony Award for playing Anna in The King and I.
Some of her other iconic roles include Clara in The Light in the Piazza, Nelli in South Pacific, Francesca in The Bridges of Madison County, and most recently Lilli/Katherine in Kiss Me, Kate. We caught up with her ahead of her solo concerts at Cadogan Hall.
You've performed on Broadway and in the West End - do you think there's a difference between the two?
When you get down to the centre of it, no matter where you are, theatre has that same familiar love. I expected it to have a lot of differences: people would talk about the audience being very different, the schedules are always a tiny bit different - we have warm-ups in the UK, while we don't have those in the US. But I can't say it's that much different. I think the biggest difference I see from the outside looking in is that the view of theatre is general in the UK is deeper, more historical, and more cherished than it is in the States.
If you think about how large the United States is geographically and you think about theatre happening all over the country in little ways but only really focusing in New York City, you realise how many people have probably never seen anything on a stage in their lives. I don't think in the UK that happens as much. People think of theatre as part of their history, also with Shakespeare if you think about it, whereas I think it's just something "for the other" in a lot of cases in the US.
You've had an impressive career - are there any roles you still want to do, but haven't had the chance yet?
I do get asked that question quite a bit, but because I've done so many revivals and I've also done a lot of new shows and new roles, I don't think about that. There isn't anything that I feel like I should be doing. I'm always looking for something that's going to surprise me that I don't know about yet. My goal would be more to create something brand new.
Is there a role you've done that you feel more attached to?
Sure, I have different favourites for different reasons, but I think that overall a role that's probably the deepest in my heart is the one that was written for me, which is Francesca in The Bridges of Madison County.
Is it different to be on stage in a concert setting where you're essentially being you as opposed to embody a character?
Oh, sure! Part of my career has been this dual job of doing solo shows as myself telling my story and then stepping inside a character, and they feel like two very different things. What's strange about doing it over in the UK is that I'm from America, born and raised here, my story is a very American country girl story. I think it's going to be interesting to tell it with many people in the audience not having any connections to what I'm talking about. Hopefully, I can tell a human story that's very universal.
What's your favourite genre of music?
I listen to folk-rock probably the most, 60s and 70s stuff, I listen to Joni Mitchell. I like Bob Dylan, my husband's band The Sweet Remains, based on classic rock style and folk-rock. I tend to kind of go away from my own work and I put myself into another music genre.
How do choose your set lists?
It changes a little bit for every single show depending on where I'm going to be and the story I want to tell. Obviously, I want to choose some songs from the shows that I've done because I think that's a nice to do for audiences who've come to see me in them. I choose songs that go with my story.
One of the things with this solo show is, I'm not just going to stand there and sing all night. It's a trajectory, an arc, hopefully, of my experiences. That helps not only to make for a more interesting story, but it helps me to feel and emote and perform in a way and a level that I'd like to. Some of the songs go back with me my whole life and some are from shows I've done.
Do you feel like you have to sing certain songs? How do you deal with expectations?
It's funny you asked that; everybody who's had a career in musical theatre has those one or two songs they just can't get away from. I just did a concert this week with Caissie Levy and Adam Pascal, and we were laughing because as part of our sets all three of us followed that: she sang "Let It Go" from Frozen, he sang "One Song Glory" from Rent, and I sang "I'm in Love with a Wonderful Guy" from South Pacific.
I tend to have to sing a little Rodgers and Hammerstein, something maybe from South Pacific or The King and I, something like that. It's not that I feel burdened by it, obviously I've sung it a lot but it's fun for me to sing. You have to keep in mind that some people are seeing you for the first time; I do these shows all the time so I feel like I overkill sometimes, but you have to keep doing it.
Do you have a favourite song?
That's hard for me to answer because I'm not a one-genre kind of person, so I probably would have a favourite in every one I like. It's impossible for me to answer, it will depend on the day, what kind of work I was doing at the moment... yeah, I can't answer!
What can we expect from your shows at Cadogan Hall?
It's a longer show than I usually do and we have an intermission, which I don't usually do. I restructured it quite a lot. Every time is different, but I've been doing a version of this show for a long time and I add on and take away, but I always have a kind of journey within my story. Having to have an intermission, which is something we've never had on tour, has changed the structure, but for the most part it's really a journey of mine - how it all started for me specifically, because I think it started differently from others.
There are a lot of personal songs that go back in my history, ones from things I've been in. But, what might be surprising, I spent a lot of time in the music of where I'm from - I go back to my country roots, so it's not all theatre.