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Cabaret Review

Kelli O'Hara

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Kelli O'Hara
Photo Source: Jordan Gomez
Though her debut show at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency has no official title, the way Kelli O’Hara informs the audience that she wants to move “beyond the ingénue” makes it sound as if the phrase were capitalized and belonged beside her name in the press releases and on the posters; it also perfectly expresses the theme of her charming set. After establishing herself as a gifted actor and singer in the difficult role of the mentally arrested daughter in “The Light in the Piazza,” she took on the perky lead roles in revivals of “The Pajama Game” and “South Pacific,” garnering Tony nominations for all three shows.

She opens with a lovely rendition of Frank Loesser’s “Somebody, Somewhere” from “The Most Happy Fella” and an unexpectedly swinging “Just in Time” (Jule Styne–Betty Comden–Adolph Green) from “Bells Are Ringing,” a show she will tackle at Encores! later in the season. The latter is given added spice by Antoine Silverman’s Django Reinhardt–ish violin. From this familiar starting place, she starts her journey outside the audience’s comfort zone. In her between-numbers patter, she explains that she wants to express more than the eternal optimism usually espoused by the heroines of these musical comedies. She fulfills that desire by crooning tunes usually sung by men, with a slight switch in the lyrics.

This tactic provides one of the highlights of the show—a gender-reversed “This Nearly Was Mine” (Richard Rodgers–Oscar Hammerstein II), the soaring second-act ballad for the male lead in “South Pacific.” O’Hara delivers this passionate ode to lost love with solid technique and heart-stopping power. “She Loves Me” (Jerry Bock–Sheldon Harnick) becomes “He Loves Me,” with a sassy cha-cha beat. She makes “Finishing the Hat” (Stephen Sondheim), from “Sunday in the Park With George,” her own, subtextually applying its examination of the creative process and the demands of the artist’s life to that of a singer-actor balancing family and career.

O’Hara also displays her versatility, tackling folk (“Tomorrow Lies in the Cradle,” a sweet lullaby from the Weavers), opera, and country. The latter two are mixed in a show-stopping specialty number written for her by musical director Dan Lipton and David Rossmer. In an extended showpiece, O’Hara plays a country star with ambitions to sing at the Metropolitan Opera. She combines both styles with wit and skill when the character goes into labor while attending a Puccini performance, delivering high notes in between labor pains. It’s a magnificent 10 o’clock number, followed by a moving ballad (“Somewhere,” from “West Side Story,” Leonard Bernstein–Stephen Sondheim), a riotous comedy number (“You’re Always Here,” Tom Kitt–Brian Yorkey), and a dazzling “I Could Have Danced All Night” (Frederick Loewe–Alan Jay Lerner), from “My Fair Lady.” She ends the show by bringing us back to the ingénue. But O’Hara has demonstrated she can move far beyond that cliché.

In addition to Lipton on piano and Silverman on violin, the expert band consists of Howard Joines on drums and Mark Vanderpoel on bass.
 
Presented by and at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency, 540 Park Ave., NYC. Oct. 19–30. Tue.–Thu., 8:30 p.m.; Fri. and Sat., 8 and 10:30 p.m. (212) 339-4095 or www.feinsteinsatloewsregency.com.

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