Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Kelli O'Hara with Seth Rudetsky
Also see Gil's reviews of The Snowy Day and other stories by Ezra Jack Keats, It's Only a Play, and Jersey Boys
O'Hara, an Oklahoma native, has been nominated for six Tony Awards and won the award for Best Actress in a Musical in 2015 for The King and I. The recent concert focused on songs and stories from all of her Tony nominated performances as well as discussion about her Oklahoma upbringing, her opera training, her Broadway debut, and the friendships and respect she has for her fellow performers.
The evening got off on a high note with a performance of "I'm in Love with a Wonderful Guy" from South Pacific. O'Hara's pure, clear, soprano voice and powerful delivery of the lyrics were perfection. Throughout the evening the richness of her vocals and the nuance she brings to her understanding of each lyric was exquisite. She also sang an emotion packed "This Nearly Was Mine" from the show. While the character she played in that musical doesn't sing that song, she said that every night she loved to watch from the wings as her co-star Paulo Szot perform that number. O'Hara's version of the song can also be heard on her 2011 solo album, "Always."
While O'Hara made her Broadway debut in the ensemble of Jekyll & Hyde, in her conversation with Rudetsky, she said it wasn't as positive an experience as she had hoped for, but that her next show, the 2001 revival of Follies where she was in the ensemble and also an understudy, was exactly what she dreamed her first show on Broadway would be like. She spoke of the admiration she had for the stars of that show and how she was fortunate to meet the show's composer Stephen Sondheim and that a picture of him holding her son is one of her most treasured possessions. She followed this with a lovely take on Sondheim's "What More Do I Need?" from his first musical Saturday Night that was infused with both humor and heart.
Other highlights included a stunningly beautiful performance of "To Build a Home" from The Bridges of Madison County, the show she said she wishes she had won the Tony Award for as it was her most treasured role, and a lovely and poignant "Hello, Young Lovers" from The King and I. O'Hara also delivered a fun take on "Getting to Know You" from that show that included an audience sing along. She mentioned that she'll be going to London to reprise her Tony winning performance in that Rodgers and Hammerstein classic later this summer, with her Broadway co-leads Ken Watanabe and Ruthie Ann Miles. This spring she'll return to the Metropolitan Opera to play the role of the maid Despina in Mozart's Così fan tutte and next season she'll star in a revival of Kiss Me, Kate on Broadway. She gave a preview of her performance as Kate in that show with a touching and lyrically moving performance of "So in Love."
O'Hara told many stories, both comical and personal, throughout the evening, including one about how she got an audition for The Sweet Smell of Success, which was her first featured role in a Broadway show and the end of her life as an ensemble member or understudy. She said that she barged into the audition room without an appointment during their lunch break and that she didn't know until later that the man who let her in, and who she kept motioning to play faster as he accompanied her on the piano, was, in fact, the show's composer Marvin Hamlisch. She also talked about how her fellow Oklahoma native Kristin Chenoweth not only helped her get her first New York agent, but that when she and Chenoweth were both nominated for Tony Awards in 2015, Kristin came up to her and told her that she truly hoped that O'Hara would win, as she thought it was her time. Stories like this showed both O'Hara's down to earth sensibility and fun-loving charm.
Other songs in the evening included a bouncy "He Loves Me" from She Loves Me and the hilarious "They Don't Let You in The Opera (If You're A Country Star)," which was written for her by Dan Lipton and David Rossmer and touched upon both her southern roots and her opera training. Toward the end of the evening Rudetsky had the house lights brought up to see if anyone in the audience had any pressing questions for Kerri. One man said that he and his wife saw her on Broadway and asked if she'd sing "If I Loved You" which she got a chance to sing in the 2013 New York Philharmonic concert version of Carousel. At first Rudetsky said that they couldn't do the song as they didn't have the music, but O'Hara said she was game if he was, and the impromptu performance the two delivered was simply magical and one of the high points in an evening full of them. After a standing ovation, O'Hara performed a bright and soaring "I Could Have Danced All Night" from My Fair Lady as an encore that ended the evening on a high.
Rudetsky's accomplished piano accompaniment was on display throughout the evening as was his keen sense of humor and his polished, prodding, but never impersonal interview technique. The sound and sightlines at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts are some of the best in the Valley, with the stadium seating giving every audience member a clear view of the stage and the sound incredibly crisp and pure.
As wonderful as the evening was I believe some people weren't quite prepared for such an in-depth conversation between Rudetsky and O'Hara. At the end of the night, I overheard the person seated next to me say they wish there had been less conversation throughout the show. But perhaps what they don't realize is that O'Hara could have performed a 70-minute set of just the songs in her concert and called it a night. The added interactions with Rudetsky provided a fun, personal peek inside the performer that you wouldn't get in just a standard cabaret show. Plus, you'd have completely missed out on that spontaneous and sensational performance of "If I Loved You."
Future dates for shows in this year's season of "Broadway @ Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts," are Megan Hilty on February 24, Kristin Chenoweth on March 17 and Vanessa Williams on April 7.
Kelli O'Hara performed with Seth Rudetsky at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, January 27th, 2018. Information for upcoming concerts at the SCPA can be found at http://www.scottsdaleperformingarts.org.