DIVA TALK: Four-Time Tony Nominee Kelli O'Hara Chats About Far From Heaven and Broadway Return

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21 Jun 2013

Kelli O'Hara
Kelli O'Hara

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Kelli O'Hara
Kelli O'Hara, the four-time Tony nominee who has dazzled Broadway audiences in South Pacific, The Pajama Game and The Light in the Piazza, can currently be found Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons in the new Michael Korie-Scott Frankel-Richard Greenberg musical Far From Heaven, based on Todd Haynes' acclaimed film of the same name. The versatile soprano, who is pregnant with her second child (she's married to actor-musician Greg Naughton), plays 1950s housewife Cathy Whitaker, whose entire world changes as she is forced to confront the secrets of her closeted husband and the racism of 1957 suburban Connecticut. O'Hara, who is dressed to the nines in period-perfect outfits by Tony winner Catherine Zuber, is offering one of her finest performances to date, fully bringing to life the kind-hearted, stoic Whitaker, who tries to maintain her world and her dignity as her life unravels, ultimately forced to let go of the one relationship that sustains her through this difficult passage, a friendship with her African-American gardener Raymond (Isaiah Johnson). Earlier this week, I had the chance to catch up with the theatre favorite, who will also be seen—opposite Far From Heaven co-star Steven Pasquale—in Jason Robert Brown's Bridges of Madison County, when that new musical arrives on Broadway in January 2014. O'Hara spoke about the challenges of her current role in the Michael Greif-directed Far From Heaven as well as her forthcoming return to Broadway; my interview with the multi-talented artist follows.

Question: When and how did you get involved with Far From Heaven?
Kelli O’Hara: Well, I guess it’s been probably two or three years. Scott Frankel actually came to my house when we were living up in Westchester, very sweetly, and sat down at my piano and played the score for me, which was amazing for him to do… It’s the first time that's ever happened to me… I used to read things like that about Mary Martin and Lerner and Lowe, who would sit down with her and play her the score. And, didn’t [Martin] say [after they first played her the score for] My Fair Lady, "Oh boys, you’ve lost your touch!" [Laughs.] I didn’t say that to him. I was extremely, extremely pleased. And, from there we just did workshops at Playwrights for a couple of years, and then we did Williamstown last summer.

O'Hara in Far From Heaven.
photo by Joan Marcus

Question: What appealed to you about the role of Cathy? What went into your decision whether to accept the role?
O’Hara: Well, a couple of things. The most immediate thing was that it was a brand-new show. It was just after I’d done South Pacific, and it was a role that was a drama, a dramatic musical, set in the fifties, which I felt was something that I had done, but [it wasn't] a comedy, a cheerful thing, it was more of a dramatic role. Also, it was a challenging score, one that I feel like I kind of come from. I do a lot of these wonderful revivals that I just love, but I actually come from [a world of] opera studies, all the art songs, all the modern music. It just really appealed to me to try to stretch my voice again and get back into this kind of place where I was doing things that were brand new.

Question: Were you familiar with the movie at that time? Did you go back to watch the film?
O’Hara: You know what, I had never seen the movie… I never really try to watch the movie of the things I’ve been in. My reason for that really has nothing more to do with [the fact] that I just don’t want to be influenced in any way… Our genre is so different—once you start to musicalize something, and there are certain aspects and subtleties in film that can happen that we don’t have the luxury of having, and I just wanted to take the source material and also the new material that’s added, and there’s so much of it because it’s musicalized, and go from there. I had heard about the movie because I knew that Julianne Moore had been nominated for an Oscar for it. I remember those Oscars, but I just never went back to see it. Actually, because I’ve heard so much about it, I probably will once we close, and I expect I’ll have lots of regrets about things I didn’t do. [Laughs.]


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