Sold out and with a buzz in the air, New York City's The Town Hall produced and presented one of the season's most spectacular achievements with singer Kelli O'Hara.
A Broadway star and mainstay, she is one of the handful of performers who define the classic "Leading Lady", as proved in her authentic Nellie Forbush via South Pacific. Her resume is complete with musicals of all styles -- from Sondheim to the modern classic The Light in the Piazza. This varied repertoire demands extreme vocal versatility, something she has in spades.
Ms. O'Hara has worked with symphonies and smaller ensembles, choosing the latter for this outing as led by her musical director, Dan Lipton. I particularly enjoyed Antoine Silverman's fiddle.
Getting rolling with Sondheim's "What More do I Need?" she charmingly delivered this vocally tricky and rangy ode to New York with accuracy and wit. Following with one of my least favorite tunes,"Always," she sang well, though the rather meandering arrangement did not tickle me. Conversely, her winsome "He Loves Me" was on par with her superbly nuanced "The Party's Over."
Ms. O'Hara's voice is clean, light and delicate, or so I thought until she started digging deep --
catching on fire. That said, I did find myself longing for a bass-baritone in South Pacific's "This Nearly Was Mine" -- though not for any lack of passion on O'Hara's part. But "The Light in the Piazza" soared thrillingly with an expanded soprano sound that is not usually heard in this "perky" type of girl.
The big surprise of the evening was her tune "They Don't Let You In The Opera (If You're A Country Star)," a story song regarding a country girl who wants to sing at the Met but never quite makes it until some extraordinary circumstances occur. For as much as she protests her country roots and gives preference over to the classics, Ms. O'Hara is one hell of a country singer. Any trace of measuredness goes right out the door as she sings the (expletive) out of anything with even a touch of country. Though I prefer opera to country, the latter is where the seat of her soul lives, thus I found myself most invigorated by Kelli's forays in the genre.
The singer balanced out her program with some special guests, most notably her husband and father -in-law, Greg Naughton and James Naughton, respectively. Greg helped out in some rock numbers from the Beatles ("I Will"), to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's "Carry On ."
Broadway is lucky to have this lady, because she could be amongst the best country singers and top earners in the world. For now, Kelli O'Hara is a first rate Broadway "diva" and fledgling cabaret performer doing exactly what she wants to do without much peer.