Review: Kelli O’Hara


Originally reviewed for

This show leaves very little doubt that Kelli O’Hara is one of the very best leading ladies that Broadway has — not that there was every really any doubt. For this, her second run at the Cafe Carlyle, she and musical director Dan Lipton have put together an evening of music comprised of songs from the Great American Songbook (which is clearly O’Hara’s comfort zone) as well as selections from Broadway shows in which she has originated roles (The Light in the Piazza, Sweet Smell of Success). She’s even included some of her own compositions from her solo album Wonder in the World.

The biggest highlight of the evening, however, was a song by Lipton custom-written for O’Hara titled “Opera-Country.” This truly hilarious piece touches on the most extreme ranges of this classically trained Oklahoman’s talent, ranging from country-western to a truly operatic coloratura childbirth sequence. The combination of comic timing and vocal fireworks had my husband saying “She could do Cunegonde” (from Bernstein’s Candide) and me replying “She could do Annie Oakley” (from Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun). Anybody who could give both Kristen Chenoweth and Reba McEntire a run for their money is someone to be reckoned with.

We heard from people who had seen her Carlyle engagement in the spring that, while impressive, it had been overwhelmingly “Broadway big.” There’s a satisfying amount of bigness here, but if anything, O’Hara has shifted things a touch too far in the opposite direction, giving us a stretch of 3-4 ballads in a row towards show’s end. Happily, Lipton’s surging arrangements prevent even that section from becoming tedious.

Truthfully, O’Hara has any imaginable soprano Broadway role in her range, and a warm yet clean forthrightness that would give any such role dimension. That range and warmth make this cabaret act a genuine pleasure and quite entertaining.

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