For New York musical theater fans, Kelli O'Hara needs no introduction. A three-time Tony nominee (South Pacific, The Light in the Piazza, Pajama Game) her performances have garnered raves. She made her Broadway debut in Jekyll & Hyde in 2000, then followed it up with Sondheim's Follies and opposite John Lithgow in Sweet Smell of Success.
True, her portrayal of Nellie Forbush at Lincoln Center proved "there's nothing like a dame," but it was her moving performance as the mentally challenged Clara Johnson in Lincoln Center's The Light in the Piazza that counts among the most heartbreaking.
When not on The Great White Way, O'Hara has performed with the Seattle Symphony, Boston Pops and The New York Philharmonic. Fans can catch her at New York's The Town Hall June 3 in An Evening With Kelli O'Hara, a concert she dubs her "CD release party." Her latest album, "Always," debuts May 31. The songs are a combo of her solo shows, plus selections from her favorite contemporary composers.
O'Hara took time out from rehearsal to consider her career to date:
How did you get into musical theater?
I loved movie-musicals as a kid, but when I went to college, I ended up getting my degree in opera. But after a couple of summers doing summer stock and then a risky move to New York, I caught the real musical theater bug. And I still haven't shaken it!
It sounds like destiny. Was it?
I had a lot of dreams as a child, like being a veterinarian, being a pediatrician. But I always wanted to be a singer. I went to school in a small Oklahoma town before getting my vocal performance/opera degree from Oklahoma City University. Then I studied at the Lee Strasburg Theatre Institute in New York.
What's your favorite role?
I always think it's the role I'm working on when asked, but Eliza Doolittle (My Fair Lady) will stand out no matter what. As for a dream role, that's a tough one, but maybe Margaret Johnson (Clara's mother) in The Light in the Piazza someday.
Is it harder to step into classic musical theater roles or great be cast as such strong characters?
Well, it's a little of both. Being compared to iconic performers such as Mary Martin is always hard, but it's also nice to put a new spin on something. It's exhilarating to bring an old character back to life.
You've successfully crossed over to roles in TV -- NUMB3RS, Blue Blood, All My Children -- as well as Martin Scorsese's film The Key To Reserva , Sex and The City2 and The Dying Gaul. Do you have a preference for a particular medium?
Yes -- my first love is theater. There is nothing like the theater, because only there do I have the live audience. I work in tandem with them, and every night is an adventure."
An Evening With Kelli O'Hara
June 3, 8 p.m.; The Town Hall, 123 W. 43 St., NY, NY
The Town Hall box office: 212/840-2824