Los Angeles Cabaret Review: AN EVENING WITH KELLI O’HARA (Valley Performing Arts Center in Northridge)

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by Tony Frankel on October 20, 2016

in Theater-Los Angeles


Broadway icon Kelli O’Hara ventured far west of the Great White Way Friday night to perform Broadway favorites and a few originals to a well-sold house at Valley Performing Arts Center, which is not only beautiful and glamorous, but has the finest sound of any concert hall I’ve attended. This captivating creature proved her timelessness by never resorting to the wearisome gimmickry used by so many of her contemporaries. The six-time Tony Award nominee (winning her first this year for The King and I) has already proved herself a star here when she performed with Nathan Gunn in 2012, but in this solo outing with trio she kept her consistently enthralled audience rapt because, as she says, “I’m not a power-note belter; I’m a storyteller.”

Lovely and lyrical, the opera-trained girl from Oklahoma offered samplings from 18 years on Broadway, smartly beginning with well-known standards from the hit Rodgers and Hammerstein revivals The King and I (a jazzy, sweetly discordant “I Have Dreamed”) and South Pacific (a deliciously straightforward “A Cockeyed Optimist”). In fact, many of the selections were from her shows on Broadway, even if other characters introduced them: After a juicy insider story about her intrusive audition for director Nicholas Hytner and composer Marvin Hamlisch, O’Hara offered “I Cannot Hear the City” from Sweet Smell of Success, which is a sterling example of her ability to turn a rather forgettable song into an unforgettable aria.


Her ability to deliver a narrative and inhabit a character came with “The Light in the Piazza”–from the same-titled show she got because Success closed early–and “To Build a Home” from Bridges of Madison County. The most fun storytelling of the intermissionless set (and a vehicle for O’Hara’s opera chops) came courtesy of her music director and pianist Dan Lipton, who co-wrote with David Rossmer: “They Don’t Let You in the Opera (If You’re a Country Star)”; this isn’t from any show I know, but it gave O’Hara the chance to make merry, trill high notes, and give birth (yeah, not literally). Lipton’s combo mates were Pete Donovan (bass) and Gene Lewin (drums).

Also refreshing was that only 10 numbers of her 18-song set were from her two CDs, Wonder in the World (2008) and Always (2011). And since she is making her solo Carnegie Hall debut in two weeks, why not “try some stuff” on us? Her own composition, “Without a Song” wasn’t offensive, as when some Broadway Stars consider themselves composers (see my Jeremy Jordan review), but it was simple and unmemorable country pop. She revisited three tracks of special material from Wonder in the World: husband Greg Naughton’s composition “The Sun Went Out” (about “not getting caught up in things”) and her own “I Love You the World” (written for her son just before he was born) and “Here Now” (about her grandparents), all pleasant tunes that also didn’t stick. While no one can help being forever entrance by her, these four tunes become wholly forgettable compared to the standards she selected, such as Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn’s “All the Way” (which is actually from the film The Joker Is Wild). More of these, please.


Indeed, whether ballad or up-tempo it was the Broadway covers that received the brightest, most lingering roars and applause: she knocked Bock and Harnick’s “He Loves Me” (from She Loves Me) out of the park; brought levity and naivete to Sondheim’s “What More Do I Need?” (Saturday Night); gave an upbeat flair to Styne and Comden & Green’s “Just in Time” (Bells Are Ringing) and “Make Someone Happy” (Do Re Mi); and offered her pellucid purity in her encore, Lerner and Loewe’s “I Could Have Danced All Night” (My Fair Lady).

My favorite was the one-two kick of songs normally associated with male singers: Sondheim’s “Finishing the Hat” (Sunday in the Park with George) and R&H’s “This Nearly Was Mine” (South Pacific), gorgeously arranged by Lipton, who has worked with O’Hara for over a decade. These selections truly validated that she does indeed possess one of the most glorious set of pipes in the universe of music theater.

O’ Hara wore an I Love Lucy-era-style dress of black with what looked like an abstract  flower or ice cream cone floating in a starry sky (no one knew what the design was, but all agreed it looked as stunning as its owner). Always prepared and professional, this leading lady is talent, grace and comedy wrapped in one beautiful package.

photos by Valley Performing Arts Center/Luis Luque

An Evening with Kelli O’Hara
Valley Performing Arts Center
18111 Nordhoff Street in Northridge
played October 14, 2016
for future events, call 818.677.3000 or visit VPAC

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