DIVA TALK: Kelli O'Hara Chats About Steven Pasquale, Bridges Tony Noms, Plus Natascia Diaz on "Making Strange" in Threepenny

By Andrew Gans
16 May 2014

Kelli O'Hara
Photo by Joan Marcus

Kelli O'Hara
Kelli O'Hara was greeted with balloons, delivered by her manager, the morning the 2014 Tony nominations were announced. O'Hara was recognized with a Tony Award nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical for her work in The Bridges of Madison County, the most moving new musical of the season.

"I think, honestly, my reaction [to the news of the nomination] was relief," O'Hara, who is offering the performance of her career, said with a laugh. "People talk about it, and you can never assume and you can never expect, but people talk about it to you, and you think, 'Well…I better as hell live up to it!' It was just kind of a happy, very peaceful sigh of relief. I'm also very, very excited."

The nomination is O'Hara's fifth, following recognition for her work in Nice Work If You Can Get It, South Pacific, The Pajama Game and The Light in the Piazza. This season finds the acclaimed singing actress nominated in a field that also includes Mary Bridget Davies (A Night With Janis Joplin), Tony winner Sutton Foster (Violet), Tony winner Idina Menzel (If/Then) and Jessie Mueller (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical). "It's been such an amazing season with these performances," O'Hara said, "and by all my friends, really. It's kind of a cool thing to be a part of it. I can honestly say that these are — I don't know the woman who played Janis Joplin — but the other three are my friends. I think that I just feel grateful. I've said it in the past — you don't want to have to feel validated or you don't want to need that, but you do something that you feel really good about, and to be recognized for it at the same time is an extra confirmation somehow—it shouldn't be, but it is. You think, 'Well, okay. I'm in the right place. I'm doing what I'm supposed to do.'"

O'Hara and Steven Pasquale in The Bridges of Madison County.
photo by Joan Marcus

When asked about the lack of a nomination in the Best Musical category for the Jason Robert Brown-Marsha Norman tuner, which will end its run May 18 at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, O'Hara answered, "I'm extremely proud of this show, of this role, of what's been created here. … [The exclusion of Bridges from the Best Musical category] confuses me a little bit, but the thing is is that you come to a point in your career, and you've done enough to say, 'Well, I know what I love, and I know what I believe in,' and therefore, nothing is going to change that for me because now I'm in a place where I'm not swayed easily. I know that I believe in this show, and I know that I love it, and I can't say why it's not universally embraced, but when people like you and countless, countless others say that they really loved it and were moved by it, I feel like there's something for everybody, and this is for some people, and it's not for others, and that's all I can say. I'm terribly disappointed about the people who were left out, as far as Marsha's concerned, terribly."

She also said the lack of a nomination for co-star Steven Pasquale — who is also delivering one of the best performances of the season — "makes no sense to me, no sense." In an earlier interview O'Hara explained, "I think one of the words that best describes [Steven] is he’s so consistent. He’s the strongest, healthiest — he doesn’t stand on ceremony about anything. He just comes in, does the work, it’s not a big deal, and he can do it every time. His voice is always there, and I feel like for a partner that is so important, to be able to depend on. I don’t have to worry about what I have to do to make sure he’s feeling good. I just think we feel that way about each other. We just come in and do our work."

The gifted artist, whose performance as Italian-born Iowa housewife Francesca is funny, touching and intriguing, also spoke about audience reaction to the new musical, which is based on the Robert James Waller novel and subsequent film of the same name.

"Marsha Norman set out to make this point about women's choices, whether it be between loves or between career and family, or whatever it's about," O'Hara explained. "And I get more responses as the show goes on — and we get deeper and deeper [into the material] — from people who might not agree with it morally but who see the larger picture about it being able to make choices for yourself, and that is so gratifying to know that that is what is getting across to people. It's not just about this crazy four-day affair, but it's also about the larger picture of how we live our lives. Life passes us by and how we cannot regret the choices we've made. But that's surprising to me that it's starting to actually pay off because people are talking about it that way."

[For tickets, phone (212) 239-6200 or visit Telecharge.com. The Schoenfeld Theatre is located at 236 West 45th Street. For more information visit BridgesOfMadisonCountyMusical.com.]

ON A PERSONAL NOTE: In my previous column, I wrote a bit about the loss of my beloved, nearly 14-year-old dachshund Gilligan on April 25. The morning the column launched, I came into the office and was greeted with numerous emails with the subject line "Gilligan." I was thoroughly moved by the beautiful messages of condolence, many from readers who had also lost their own pets over the years. Turns out, diva lovers are a truly kind-hearted bunch, and I thank you.


Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

Diva Talk runs every other week on Playbill.com. Senior editor Andrew Gans also pens the weekly columns Their Favorite Things and Stage Views.