BWW Review: KELLI O'HARA, Cadogan Hall
Kelli O'Hara was briefly back to London on Sunday for a two-show day at Cadogan Hall. The last time the city embraced her talent was in the guise of Anna in The King and I at the Palladium, which marked her West End debut and the chance for audiences this side of the pond to appreciate a performer who's been making waves on Broadway since the start of her career. Her comeback saw two solo concerts that blew the roof off the Hall.
After being welcomed by a roaring standing ovation before she even opened her mouth, she went on to the deliver an all-encompassing set-list that included the highlights of her rise as a musical theatre star, but also a number of self-penned songs and tracks from other shows.
It's easy to see why O'Hara has made such a name for herself. Besides her glorious vocal control and soprano powers, she is a warm and delicate presence who glows with a sparkling personality. When she's not cracking jokes about her range and humble roots, she's opening up and letting her listeners in bit by bit to have a glimpse into her life beyond the stage.
She revealed how cathartic her season in London with the musical was, and how she would walk around town and get lost. "Perhaps it's the lack of guns!" she joked, bringing back the conversation to a lighter level before diving into 'What More Do I Need?' from Stephen Sondheim's Saturday Night. The composer was as much of a manifestation on stage as her beloved duo Rodgers and Hammerstein during the evening, with O'Hara's renditions of his works wowing the room. Among the other numbers that she took on, she surprised the crowd with her own interpretation of "Finishing The Hat".
She recounted how as a young woman trying to pursue her dreams of being an actress in New York, she ended up crashing the audition for what would be the rather unsuccessful Sweet Smell of Success. It was, however, a turning point in how she saw herself and her craft, as much as Jason Robert Brown's later work The Bridges of Madison County. "It represented so many things for me," she said, explaining how she found her true voice with it, how it changed the way she thinks about herself as "an acting singer", and how, in spite of the shortcomings of its commercial profit, the show was an emotional triumph for her.
The charged "To Build a Home" came next, before garnering her the second of many ovations of the night. For this occasion, O'Hara reshaped the show to accommodate a longer list, giving Act Two had a slightly different vibe to it. After a dress change and the crowd nearly jumping up on their feet again, she mixed songs from her own albums with popular musical theatre ones. She dug deep into her personal life, singing pieces written by her husband Greg Naughton and his band The Sweet Remains, and by her long-time musical director Dan Lipton for her.
The cheeky and laugh-out-loud "They Don't Let You In The Opera (If You're A Country Star)" (co-written by Lipton and David Rossmer) saw her donning a cowgirl hat and paying homage to her country roots and operatic background. She also spoke of her grandfather - whose life story of how he had to quit school to help out on the farm she then grew up on had always struck her as a child - with a song she wrote herself called "Here Now", a smooth rock-sounding number.
Two encores and the subsequent standing o's led to the beautiful original French version of Edith Piaf's "La Vie En Rose" (delivered with an impressive accent). The concert was an enchanting introduction to O'Hara as the woman behind the characters. Her graceful nature and dazzling vocals shone in the ever-striking setting of Cadogan Hall, and one hopes it won't be too long until she comes back - either as herself or in character.