Kelli O’Hara has never seen the live capture of her performance in The King and I, and most likely won’t tune in to the May 8 watch party. Not because she’s an actor who hates watching herself onscreen. “Because the way you feel about something is so different from the way it can ever be captured,” she says. “No matter what we think. I’ve said this before: ‘Don’t ever watch your wedding video!’ Just don’t!”
O’Hara—who won a Tony Award for her performance—may be one of the few people not tuning in this weekend to stream the show on BroadwayHD or take part in the 8 PM ET watch party, when the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization and Playbill join forces for the streaming of the Lincoln Center Theater production. Again directed by Bartlett Sher—who helmed the original 2015 revival—and co-starring Ken Watanabe and Tony winner Ruthie Ann Miles from the original Broadway cast, the show premiered at London’s Palladium July 3, 2018, and was ultimately captured over the course of a few performances.
“You could feel the excitement in the audience,” O’Hara remembers of the performances that were filmed. Not that the process was without its difficulties—notably the constant whir of motion in a performers’ peripheral vision as camera operators moved around and, at the Palladium, a “huge mechanical arm with a camera would just come flying out over the orchestra,” O’Hara remembers, laughing. “You have to be careful to stay in your show, and you’re so used to muscle memory. And there are some times you’re directed differently, so Bart’ll say, ‘Can you change your performance? We’re going for a closeup.’”
The whole London production was a new experience for O’Hara, not just the change in location but the chance to return to a role. “I never did shows that long. I get antsy really fast,” O’Hara says. “Not that I’m finished with something, but I’m just one of those people who constantly wants to go a different direction and feel something else. We’d stepped away long enough that I was really surprised by how much more I needed to have from it once we started again in London. And a lot of things went along with that, not just a new place or audience or cast. You’ll surprise yourself if you just dig in, and it surprised me how much I learned in London and even in Tokyo [where the revival played after the London production].”
As the world waits for theatre to return, captured performances like these are becoming increasingly precious to theatregoers.
“I was noticing on a couple of these, like Stars in the House and things where people can gather in that moment and type in their questions, it feels like you’re having a shared moment,” O’Hara says. “It’s proof that that’s who we are as humans, even if we’re not sitting next to each other.
“Theatre is our response to things like this, and it’s gonna come back with a vengeance. People are gonna hunger for it and take advantage of it and not take it for granted. In the history of things this moment is going to seem very short when we look back. It’s gonna seem really short and it’s a sacrifice, but at the same time whatever it’s going to birth is gonna be really powerful.”