It was one of those concerts I popped along to without intending to say anything about it other than, ‘yes, I had a swell time’ – or perhaps nothing at all if it wasn’t all that. But I found Kelli O’Hara’s concert at Cadogan Hall on Remembrance Sunday evening so delightful I ought to put something down. It was rather eventful – whatever hand cream she’d used was strong enough to sting her eyes when she then touched her face, such that she appeared to be overcome by emotion when in fact it was a mere allergic reaction of some kind. But the show must go on, and so she soldiered on through to the interval. Girl power and all that.
I only really came to know who O’Hara is thanks to a Lincoln Center Theater production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King & I that came across to the West End and took up residence for a limited season at the London Palladium. Not every American performer can do a decent British accent (the Broadway cast recording of the Cyndi Lauper musical Kinky Boots being a case in point), and I’m aware it works both ways – some British actors (no names) have utterly appalling American accents. Quite a few remind me of Stewie Griffin in the animated comedy television series Family Guy. O’Hara took the advice of her dialect coach when she was over in London, and rounded out her vowels so she sounded less like the 1930s diction of HM Queen Elizabeth II and more like the mid-nineteenth century tones of her character.
“I’m a soprano,” she deadpans, having already demonstrated the full strength of her voice. ‘I’m In Love With A Wonderful Guy’ from South Pacific seemed effortless, as did ‘They Don’t Let You In The Opera (If You’re A Country Star)’, though those two numbers, aside from appearing in different acts, couldn’t be more different if they tried. The latter, written by her musical director, Daniel Lipton, and David Rossmer, tells the story of a country and western singer who wanted to join an opera company but found herself up against people who were convinced their patrons would never take to her on account of her rural background. Years later, she attends an opera performance whilst heavily pregnant, and the baby arrived so quickly after her waters broke that she gave birth in the auditorium. Because her screams and cries took the form of a soprano singing an aria, the opera company decided they would have her on their books after all.
It is more hilarious than I’ve made it sound. The evening was more sublime than it was ridiculous, taking in ‘That’s How You Say Goodbye’, one of the songs cut from the Marvin Hamlisch (1944-2012) musical The Sweet Smell of Success, the title song from the Adam Guettel musical The Light in the Piazza, and a tune from Jason Robert Brown’s The Bridges of Madison County. ‘Madison’ didn’t really appeal to me when I saw it in London (at the Menier Chocolate Factory) but then O’Hara really is one of those people that can sing the phone book (do we still have those?) and make it sound beautiful and engaging. ‘She Loves Me’ became ‘He Loves Me’, and the closing number, ‘Make Someone Happy’ (from Betty Comden (1917-2006) and Adolph Green’s (1914-2002) Do Re Mi) felt anticlimactic to a fellow audience member, but that was before O’Hara returned with the jaunty ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’ from My Fair Lady, and then (and this really was slightly anticlimactic) ‘La Vie en Rose’, made famous by Edith Piaf (1915-1963). My schoolboy French is insufficient to pass judgement on it.
Getting to know (so to speak) Kelli O’Hara was a decent and pleasant experience, and a varied one at that, with a tune by Greg Naughton, her husband, and his band called The Sweet Remains included. ‘Finishing The Hat’ from Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George, had its own fresh interpretation, and as with every enjoyable evening, the whole thing was over all too soon.
London lad, loving life and all that it has to offer.