After Days of Wine and Roses, Kelli O'Hara Is Now Focused on The Hours and The Gilded Age | Playbill

Tony Awards After Days of Wine and Roses, Kelli O'Hara Is Now Focused on The Hours and The Gilded Age

The versatile actor just picked up her eighth Tony nomination for the now-closed Days of Wine and Roses.

Kelli O'Hara Michaelah Reynolds

In 2005, Broadway favorite Kelli O'Hara first sang the Adam Guettel lyric, "It's rushing up / It's pouring out / It's flying through the air / All through the air." Ever since that time, it's what this writer first thinks of whenever the Oklahoma native opens her mouth, and out pours that rich, soaring, golden voice.

The lyric, of course, is from Guettel and Craig Lucas' Tony-winning The Light in the Piazza, which brought O'Hara her first Tony nomination in 2005 for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. Flash forward nearly two decades, and the soprano just picked up her eighth Tony nomination for her work in another Guettel and Lucas musical, Days of Wine and Roses, which played an abbreviated run earlier this season at Studio 54 after an acclaimed Off-Broadway engagement last summer. Far from the bright-eyed ingenue of Piazza, O'Hara brought great dignity, grace, despair, and that thrilling voice to the role of Kirsten Arnesen, a wife and mother struggling with alcoholism. Days of Wine and Roses picked up three nominations in all, including those for O'Hara's co-star, Brian d'Arcy James, and Guettel's score. 

In between Piazza and Roses, it should be noted, O'Hara was also Tony-nominated for her varied performances in Kiss Me, Kate (2019), The King and I (2015), The Bridges of Madison County (2014), Nice Work If You Can Get It (2012), South Pacific (2008), and The Pajama Game (2006). She won Broadway's top honor for her nuanced portrayal of schoolteacher Anna Leonowens in the aforementioned Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, The King and I.

This season, the stage and screen star—also a welcome, grounding presence in the HBO series The Gilded Age—finds herself nominated for Best Leading Actress in a Musical in a category that also includes Eden Espinosa (Lempicka), Maleah Joi Moon (Hell's Kitchen), Maryann Plunkett (The Notebook), and Gayle Rankin (Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club). 

On April 30, the morning the 2024 Tony nominations were announced, the ever-busy O'Hara was on her way to rehearsals for The Hours at The Metropolitan Opera. The original trio of O'Hara, Renée Fleming, and Joyce DiDonato will reprise their portrayals of three women from different eras in the return engagement of the Kevin Puts opera, which originally played the Met in 2022. While in the car, O'Hara chatted with Playbill about her latest Tony nod and how she is currently juggling her work on stage and screen.

Brian d'Arcy James and Kelli O'Hara in Days of Wine And Roses Joan Marcus

How did you find out about the nomination this morning?
Kelli O'Hara: Well, it's the same way I've always found out. I let [my manager] Erica [Tuchman] call me. [Laughs] I'm in the car driving. We have a dress rehearsal for The Hours at The Met this morning, so I'm driving and couldn't watch anything, so Erica called me on the phone.

What does it mean to you, at this point in your career, to get a nomination, especially in such a busy season?
Well, now listen, I take nothing for granted. And I know that in this season, which is just so saturated—it's wonderful that so many things have opened, but the fact that my show also closed, I kind of opened myself up for the realities of the situation. You can never expect anything. So that's why the surprise is especially delicious. And the fact that both Brian [d'Arcy James] and I are nominated together is what really means the most to me in this particular adventure because it's been nothing but a team effort.

I thought your performance in Days of Wine and Roses was so moving. What do you think you learned about yourself playing Kirsten?
I learned a lot, Andrew. I mean, this was, in my opinion, as an artist, it was sort of the most free and deep that I've ever been allowed to go. And sometimes, we as performers don't know exactly what we're capable of until we're allowed to be adventurous and have the material to dive into. You know, we try to do the best with whatever we're given, or whatever we have in front of us. But this felt particularly built on me and sort of created [for me]. Those don't come along, often, if ever. And, so, it was one of those sort of dreamy situations. I learned that I should always try to just go far beyond where I think I can.

What's next for you? I know you said you're on your way to rehearsal…
Yes, well, we're going to do The Hours for a month, and then I'm going to start shooting The Gilded Age. So I'm enjoying this cross-genre, three-genre period in my life where I'm jumping from musical theatre to opera to television. It's pretty exciting.

I think you're probably one of the few actually able to do all that.
Well, I feel grateful. I feel grateful that the opportunities are there. It's kind of like your last question. Until we get the ability to do it, we don't quite know what we can do. We know what we want to try, so it's nice for people to have the opportunity to try these things.

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