By Matt Harron
On September 15 at 7:30 p.m. KU Presents! featured Kelli O’Hara, 2015 TONY award-winner, and her accompanying pianist, Dan Lipton, in Schaeffer auditorium. O’Hara wrapped up KU’s Founders’ Week with a memorable performance followed by a standing ovation.
After graduating from Oklahoma City, she received her bachelor’s degree in music performance with a concentration in vocal and opera performance. O’Hara followed her dreams to pursue a career in theater and Broadway.
O’Hara is a six-time TONY award nominee, winning in 2015 for best lead actress in a Musical for her performance in the ‘King and I.’ Outside of her theatrical career, O’Hara has produced her own solo album entitled ‘Wonder In The World.’
Schaeffer auditorium’s acoustics complimented O’Hara’s vibrant voice. Her opening pieces contrasted her experiences from her rural hometown in Oklahoma and lively New York City. Her journey as a musician, and what she has accomplished, enhanced her versatility as a performer. O’Hara warmed up the audience with the story of her first experience auditioning for a high demand roll in a musical titled ‘Sweet Smell of Success.’ On a lunch break during a rehearsal day in NYC, she had enough time to make her way to the audition across town. O’Hara let her raw talent shine as she won the roll after only spending a lunch break on the audition material.
O’Hara was eager to work alongside director Nick Hytner, who she said she learned so much from. Her next song, ‘That’s How I say Goodbye,’ was dedicated to Marvin Hamlisch, a mentor of O’Hara’s who recently passed away. Hamlisch guided her throughout her first musical, ‘Sweet Smell of Success.’
“Love of mine, free your heart, let it end, that is how I say goodbye,” sang O’Hara. Her passionate voice enhanced the emotional performance; her falsetto voice resonated throughout the audience. O’Hara brightened the mood of audience, proclaiming that they should have put that into the musical.
O’Hara’s versatility as a performer shined when she dug into her Broadway repertoire performing ‘The Beauty Is.’ The allegro piano accompaniment intensified the piece, strengthening O’Hara’s Broadway roots and bringing the audience into a different type of performance.
The event was nearly sold out; hundreds flocked to hear O’Hara sing. Richard Bradbury of Lancaster drove over an hour to see O’Hara perform. Bradbury said he was ecstatic seeing O’Hara by herself. “It was all her. You could focus just on her. It was perfect,” said Bradbury. This was his third time he saw O’Hara perform.
O’Hara’s next song, ‘Here Now,’ was written for her grandfather, who dedicated his life to their farm in Oklahoma. Her grandfather’s biggest regret was not furthering his education at a young age. Her grandfather influenced her to take advantage of the opportunities her parents laid forth for her.
“Keep your priorities straight and never lose sight of the importance of your family,” said O’Hara. It is clear that O’Hara is family oriented and passionate about the opportunities she has been given.
Ending with her final song, ‘Make Someone Happy,’ O’Hara reflected on why she continues to perform. “It is not about the awards, but about my starting moments as a singer, the times I sang in my rural hometown or how much I truly love performing,” said O’Hara.
The elegant piano accompaniment and O’Hara’s soothing voice ended on the right note saying, “Build Your Love Around Them.”