What Is the 1 Change Kelli O’Hara Wants to Make for King And I in the West End?

Seth Rudetsky   What Is the 1 Change Kelli O’Hara Wants to Make for King And I in the West End?
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth talks about his recent concerts with Tony winner O’Hara, plus a look at high school stagings of Disaster! across the country.
Kelli O'Hara and Seth Rudetsky
Kelli O'Hara and Seth Rudetsky Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Hello from many feet in the air! I’m on a flight from Phoenix to San Francisco to go perform a show with Kelli O’Hara. Last night we did our show at the Scottsdale Performing Arts Center and it went great. She sang up a storm…including a preview of one of her songs (“So In Love”) from the upcoming Kiss Me, Kate!, which she’ll be doing on Broadway next year!

Near the end of the show, I decided to let the audience ask some questions. I assumed it would be “What was your favorite role?” “Do you have any advice for someone starting out?” Instead, someone’s “question” was “Will you sing ‘If I Loved You’?“ OK. I guess, technically, that is a question, but it’s in the subcategory of “song request” and I definitely know we were not in a piano bar. Furthermore, I’m obsessed with how his full sentence had no connective tissue. The entire question was “We saw you in South Pacific...will you sing ‘If I Loved You’?” Huh? “The sky is blue…can I borrow five dollars?” Anyhoo, Kelli immediately said “Sure!” and she hauled it out. I had no music so I played a version of the song with a delightful soupson of clams. Regardless, she sounded great.

She talked about doing The Bridges of Madison County and the first time she heard some of the music. Jason Robert Brown, who wrote the show and won the Tony for it, was writing it in a folksy/pop style and she told him about her operatic training and asked, since the character herself was from Italy, if the music could have a more romantic, classical sound. He then wrote her a song and she cried! Why? Because she had played roles in shows like Jekyll and Hyde and more Golden Age soprano roles and she felt it was finally the first time she could really sing as herself and not adjust her voice to fit the role. Listen to how beautifully she sings!


She’s gearing up to play Mrs. Anna again in The King And I in the West End. The biggest hassle of that role is her dress which weighs 40 pounds! Basically, once it goes on, she can’t take it off to pee. She then demonstrated how difficult it is to hold it in because all of “Shall We Dance” is basically moving all over the stage while lifting one leg. She said she was seriously considering getting some adult undergarment because there were a few “near misses” during the run. When I seemed shocked she sassed me with “C’mon! I’ve had two children!” Watch her quick change into the dress in the video below:

I got to Arizona a day before Kelli’s concert to go to the Tucson Arts Magnet High School. The head of their theatre department, Art Almquist, had invited me to work with his theatre teens on their production of Disaster!, and Music Theater International—which licenses Disaster!—sponsored the whole trip. Jack Plotnick, who co-wrote it with me and directed the Broadway production, flew in from L.A. and we had such a fantastic time with the kids. They would do a production number or scene and then Jack and I would work with them on their performances, specifying acting choices, changing blocking, or giving them insight into the characters we created. It was so much fun. And the kids were amazing at taking notes!

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We loved talking to them after the class. Francisco, the boy who played the Adam Pascal role, told us that he didn’t expect his father to enjoy the musical because he’s a jock who doesn’t go to the theatre very much. Cut to, Francisco said he happened to look into the audience when he was singing “I Can’t Live (If Living Is Without You)” and his Dad was crying! And we loved hearing that all the kids in the ensemble loved doing the show because everyone had something to do and “it was so much fun to be onstage and just watch!” There are a lot of high school productions happening now around the country, but it was the first one Jack had ever seen. He was so moved because he remembered being just like these kids….a theatre-loving student in high school doing the big musical. And now the musical these kids were doing was the one he co-wrote! It was very passing-the-torch. It’s also exciting for us to see the creative ways they did the props and costumes. They had a real slot machine for the nun! Look!

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And I love that they made the security guard look extra ’70s by adding chest hair (or poodle hair—can’t figure out from where it was sourced).

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On Seth Speaks, my SiriusXM talk show, I had the cast from the musical version of Cruel Intentions and it was nice to see Lauren Zakrin again. I first met Lauren when she was a contestant on the Legally Blonde: The Search For The Next Elle Woods on MTV. I was the music director each week and MTV also asked me to do a recap of each episode…where I basically made fun of everything. The fact that there were always camera shots of Lauren completely blank-faced became a running gag.

Anyhoo, I asked Lauren about onstage mishaps and she told us about one during Wicked in a scene that feature Nessa Rose, Elphaba’s sister who is in a wheelchair. Well, at one performance, the wheelchair broke. But Nessa Rose still had to exit. You know what happened next. That’s right, at the end of the scene, Nessa Rose suddenly could walk! But she “covered it up” by pulling her skirt really low. Apparently, it would look like she wasn’t walking if the audience didn’t literally see her legs moving. I guess she hoped the audience would think she got out of her big wheelchair and had a mini-wheelchair hidden underneath her skirt. It brings me back to one of my classics: In 11th grade, I was starring in Whose Life Is It Anyway?. I was the paraplegic artist who’s in a hospital bed after becoming paralyzed. At the end of Act 1 there’d be a complete blackout where I’d exit for intermission. Well, the theatre we used in our high school production had no curtain, so the “completely blackout” had just enough light for the entire audience to see me get out of bed and scurry off the stage. It was always “hilarious” when someone would yell out “He can walk!”

Finally, if you’re in South Florida, come see me and Tony winner Rachel Bay Jones at the Parker Playhouse in Ft. Lauderdale on February 16. Here’s info and here’s our Obsessed! Peace out!

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