Dan Lipton, Kelli O’Hara, & Bob Bernhardt. Photo: Louisville Orchestra

An Evening with Kelli O’Hara

Louisville Orchestra
Bob Bernhardt, conductor
Kelli O’Hara, vocals
Dan Lipton, piano
Gabriel Lefkowitz, violin

A review by Annette Skaggs

Entire contents are copyright © 2022 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.

When the press announcement went out as to the upcoming Pops season for the Louisville Orchestra I was impressed at the array of programming and talent that was headed to our Whitney Hall stage. And what better way to begin the season than with a bonafide star of stage and screen, such as Kelli O’Hara.

I could go on for pages and pages on the body of work that has made Ms. O’Hara a beloved member of the theater community, but suffice it to say that she has graced both Broadway and the West End, as well as performed around the world, the Kennedy Center, and most recently appeared alongside Christina Baranski and Cynthia Nixon on HBO’s The Gilded Age. While all of that is impressive on its own, what strikes my fancy is that she has the kind of vocal range that also placed her on the stage of The Metropolitan Opera. 

The evening began with selections from Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! All of the favorite melodies were included and allowed our Louisville Orchestra to stretch before the onslaught of Broadway tunes began to commence.

When Ms. O’Hara arrived on stage, resplendent in a dress layered with gold lame and heels of a height that made a few audience members gasp, she dazzled us with more Rogers and Hammerstein songs from South Pacific, Carousel, and The King and I, with the audience joining in singing Getting to Know You. O’Hara was appreciative of the choral, especially an enthusiastic gentleman who sang with distinguishable notations.

When Ms. O’Hara graduated from college, with her degree in opera, she made the move to New York City. While her path to the opera house took a little longer, she had success on and off Broadway. Composers and producers took notice and invited Kelli to workshop a new musical called The Light in the Piazza by Adam Guettel. Ms. O’Hara shared that this show was the light that she needed to find her path that further solidified her place in musical theater. She shared with us the title song and one could feel the attachment that she has to the arrangement.

To close the first act, we dipped into the lesser-known Sondheim “What More Do I Need” from Saturday Night and a syncopated take on Lerner and Lowe’s “I Could Have Danced All Night” from My Fair Lady.

As this was a Pops concert led by Bob Bernhardt, I sensed that there would be a John Williams comment and/or performance thrown in and I was right. Maestro Williams arranged the music for the film of Jerry Bock’s Fiddler on the Roof. Consequentially, that arrangement garnered Mr. Williams his first Academy award. As Mr. Bernhardt introduced the piece, he borrowed a quote from Field of Dreams and said something to the effect, “If it is written, they will come”. What he did was conjure the want for the fiddler to come and display their talent and so our fiddler did, in the capable and talented hands of Concertmaster Gabriel Lefkowitz.

To complete the evening, in a flattering rose-printed ensemble, Ms. O’Hara kept the Bock train rolling with a pronoun-bending version of “He Loves Me” from She Loves Me. As the evening lent itself to Broadway and show tunes, how could we not explore works by Cole Porter and Stephen Sondheim. “So In Love” from Kiss Me Kate was fun and despite her warning to not think of her version, my mind kept drifting to Ella Fitzgerald’s rendition of “Night and Day” from Gay Divorcee but make no mistake, Ms. O’Hara’s take was just as memorable.

Feeling pulls and tugs from suggestions and the state of the world, our guest soloist felt that the song “Children Will Listen” from Into the Woods would be a timely reminder for us all. 

Not every musician has had the privilege of having works tailored to their respective backgrounds and/or vocal styles. When The Bridges of Madison County was being workshopped the song “To Build a Home” wasn’t landing quite right, but in working with the writer Jason Robert Brown, a comfortable spot was found, where the composer incorporated O’Hara’s classical background as well as aspects of her family and home. All in all, a very lovely piece. 

To close we were treated to “They Don’t’ Let You in the Opera (if You’re a Country Star)”. Written by her longtime musical partner Dan Lipton (who also provided the beautiful piano work this evening) and David Rossmer, the song takes you on a roller-coaster ride of musical genres telling the story of a county gal’s visit to the opera and includes the picking skills of local musician Craig Wagner on the banjo. The piece reminds me of a work that fellow Broadway starlet Kristin Chenowith is associated with called “The Girl in 14G”; full of sass and brass.

An absolutely fantastic way to end a thoroughly entertaining evening.

Bravi Tutti!!

An Evening with Kelli O’Hara

September 24, 2022

Louisville Orchestra
Kentucky Performing Arts
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202

Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.