When Kelli O’Hara took the stage at New York City’s Town Hall January 14, she had just finished a full day of rehearsal for Roundabout Theatre Company’s upcoming Broadway revival of Kiss Me, Kate. As a mom back on Broadway, O’Hara said that she was careful about scheduling too many outside things, but that a concert with Rudetsky is too special to turn down.
O’Hara joined Seth Rudetsky in another evening of unfettered conversation and unrivaled musicality in Broadway at The Town Hall. Through his long history with the Tony-winning actor (a six-time Tony nominee) and his quick wit, Rudetsky put O’Hara at ease—much as he did Audra McDonald at his inaugural concert in the series—and it was the audience’s gain. In between her soaring soprano (singing tunes like “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “This Nearly Was Mine,” and “The Light in the Piazza,”) O’Hara revealed some gems from the beginning of her career through today.
1. O’Hara played two roles in Follies in the same performance.
As part of the 2001 Broadway revival of Follies, O’Hara played Young Hattie and understudied the roles of Young Sally, Young Phyllis, and Young Heidi. When the actor who played Young Phyllis left the show, O’Hara fought to be officially moved up to the role. (The powers that be had wanted to keep her as the cover and train a new actor in one role, rather than a new cover and teach them four.) O’Hara won the battle and replaced as Young Phyllis, but in one performance the actor who was Young Heidi was out and the new cover hadn’t learned that role yet. So O’Hara played Young Heidi and Young Phyllis in the same performance.
2. She earned the part of Susan in Sweet Smell of Success after snapping at Marvin Hamlisch.
O’Hara dashed to the audition for Sweet Smell of Success while on her lunch break from working on another show. She pounded on the door until someone answered and begged to be seen, even though everyone was technically on their lunch break. (Remember this is before she was “Kelli O’Hara.”) The creative team agreed but the accompanist had gone to lunch. So the composer said, “I’ll just have to play for you.” (It was Marvin Hamlisch.) O’Hara didn’t recognize Hamlisch by face, and when she started singing and he played too slowly, she snapped to get him up to speed! She got the role and it was a story Hamlisch often told when the two of them performed together at future symphony concerts.
3. Though she wound up with a Tony nomination for The Pajama Game, she was not the first person offered the role of Babe opposite Harry Connick, Jr.
Mary Stuart Masterson (Nine, Fried Green Tomatoes, Benny & Joon) was originally offered the role of Babe Williams in the 2006 revival of The Pajama Game. O’Hara believes that Masterson decided not to move forward with the role—feeling she wasn’t the right choice. Director Kathleen Marshall called O’Hara, who decided to leave The Light in the Piazza to take the role. Marshall wasn’t the only one to call her. While walking in the village, O’Hara got a call from an unknown number and answered. “Hey Babe” said a deep voice. Taken aback O’Hara remarked, “Who is this?” and hung up—not realizing it was Harry Connick Jr. calling her by the character's name!
4. South Pacific looked a lot like The Light in the Piazza.
In the earliest workshops of Adam Guettel’s The Light in the Piazza, O’Hara played Franca, Celia Keenan-Bolger played Clara, and Victoria Clark played her mother Margaret. (When the show debuted on Broadway, O’Hara originated the role of Clara and earned a Tony nomination.) Years later, when O’Hara was up for the role of Nellie Forbush in South Pacific she learned she was up against Keenan-Bolger and Clark for the role as the creative team waited to see what age their Emile de Becque would be.
5. Years before she starred in The Bridges of Madison County, one of O’Hara’s first professional offers was a different Jason Robert Brown show.
In 2014, O’Hara bowed as Francesca in The Bridges of Madison County, a role Tony-winning composer-lyricist Jason Robert Brown wrote for her. But, early in her career, one of O’Hara’s first offers was an out-of-town production of The Last Five Years—though she did not end up playing the role.