I have been waiting for years to see Kelli O'Hara perform live, and when I attended her solo concert tonight at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, I was certainly not disappointed. She opened with He Loves Me, a tweaked version of the song She Loves Me. She then continued into Wonderful Guy from South Pacific and also sang a selection from Most Happy Fella. After the first two to three songs, Kelli addressed the audience. She seemed incredibly comfortable speaking to the audience and while she wasn't as funny as other performers I've seen in concert, she was incredibly sweet and charming in her own way, not to mention incredibly gracious. She told us that this was a new concert and it is the same she will be performing at her upcoming show at Feinstein's in New York. The theme of this concert was her growth as an artist and she began with ingénue songs and progressed into songs sung by more adult characters to reflect her maturity and life experience. She did a lovely rendition of Kurt Weill's My Ship and we were also privileged to hear The Beauty Is from The Light in the Piazza as her final ingénue number.
She then continued into Something Wonderful from the King and I and an absolutely stunning rendition of This Nearly Was Mine. She spoke of how much she fell in love with this song hearing Paulo Szot perform it nightly in South Pacific. She even acknowledged that performing the song was a huge risk but I found it to be a phenomenal rendition. She then gave a small discussion of her appreciation for Sondheim, performing Finishing the Hat, and a song written for her by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey in the style of Sondheim for the brilliant composer's 80th birthday celebration. The one selection she chose from her solo album Wonder in the World, which is great I might add, was All The Way.
Kelli discussed the importance of family in her life, specifically her husband and son, and the balance it takes to be a mom and a performer. Everything she said was just so incredibly charming that I darn near fell in love with her! She then sang Opera-Country a number written for her by her musical director that discusses a country singer who secretly wants to be an opera star. This song made use of her lovely upper range and in its use of character voices and a somewhat autobiographical storyline, I found it quite similar to the Kristin Chenoweth standard The Girl in 14G. For her final number, Kelli performed West Side Story's Somewhere, which she also did two years ago for Barbra Streisand at the Kennedy Center Honors.
After tremendous applause and a standing ovation, she returned for an encore, I Could Have Danced All Night, which I thought was her best number. I've been saying for what seems like forever that she needs to play Eliza Doolittle in a Broadway revival of My Fair Lady and I stand by that choice.
In conclusion, I found Kelli's voice to be in tip top shape, and for someone who I admire primarily for her voice, this concert was the perfect medium for me to have my first live experience with Kelli. I could listen to her sing for hours. What I love about her is that her vocal training is definitely apparent, but when she sings, it sounds effortless. Singing clearly gives her great joy and it is very evident in her performance. And as for her stage presence? There were definitely times where her jokes didn't land or she didn't say exactly what she was meaning to say, but she is so darn sweet that you can't help but fall in love with her. I left the concert as an even bigger fan that I was when I arrived and from the mood in the theatre, she was a hit!