‘The Art Is Deepening’: Tony Winner Kelli O’Hara on Keeping Her Art Alive During a Pandemic

Interview   ‘The Art Is Deepening’: Tony Winner Kelli O’Hara on Keeping Her Art Alive During a Pandemic
 
We caught up with The King and I and The Light in the Piazza star as she prepares for her December 12 streaming concert.
Kelli O'Hara
Kelli O'Hara Emilio Madrid

Kelli O’Hara is no stranger to the concert stage. Since making her name with breathtakingly authentic acting and a soaring, clarion soprano in such Broadway musicals as The Light in the Piazza, South Pacific, and The King and I—she received the 2015 Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical for her work in the latter—O’Hara has played concert engagements around the world, from Carnegie Hall to Tokyo.

But O’Hara’s next concert, presented by the University of Connecticut and set for December 12, will look quite different from the Tony winner’s typical fare. With most performances venues worldwide shuttered in the wake of a global pandemic, An Evening With Kelli O’Hara will stream online using the platform OurConcerts.live, and O’Hara will be performing without a live audience.

“Without an audience, there is no feedback, no energy in return,” says O’Hara. “But I like to say that ‘truth is truth.’ Some truth needs to be shouted and received among friends, and some can be heard in a whisper, taken in from the quiet of a lonely room. Both are useful.”

And how does she adjust her performance for this new medium? “I just turn down the decibels. The rest is the same as far as the desire to connect.”

O’Hara has been spending the majority of this pandemic at home in Connecticut, spending time with her family.

Kelli O'Hara
Kelli O'Hara Emilio Madrid

“This pandemic and lockdown have given me the unintended gift of realizing how grateful I am for having built a family and a life apart from my work along the way. Here I am presently with something so rich, so in need of my attention, that it’s hard to deny a sense of purpose even without a stage. And yet, even in that realization and fulfillment, I often feel lost without it. And from this loss and this gain, I am hopeful that the art is deepening.”

O’Hara will infuse that deepened art into the set list for her upcoming streaming concert, which includes songs from some of her stage performances, holiday classics, and even some tunes that have taken on new resonance for the performer during the pandemic—O’Hara pointed to “Both Sides Now,” “Take Me to the World,” and “Tomorrow” as songs that have been on her mind more lately, along with the Christmas standard “O Holy Night.”

Though the Broadway star yearns for a return to normalcy, O’Hara feels a responsibility to bring her gift to audiences in whatever way possible. “It makes me feel purposeful. If I can make music and it might help someone, why wouldn’t I?”

But mostly O’Hara spoke of the overwhelming hope getting her through this time.

“Keep watching. Keep supporting. Keep hoping. I didn’t have Broadway in my life until I was 21 years old, and yet the idea of it completely shaped who I am. It’s never really gone, not for real theatre fans. But when it’s actually back, let’s never take it for granted again.”

Presented by the University of Connecticut, An Evening With Kelli O’Hara streams on OurConcerts.live December 12 at 8 PM ET. Tickets are available at UConn.edu.

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