10 Things You Didn’t Know About Kelli O’Hara
The 2019 Christmas concerts are approaching quicker than you can say “Mele Kalikimaka!”
This year’s guests will include singer and actress Kelli O’Hara and actor Richard Thomas. The concerts will be held on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, December 12–14, 2019, at 8:00 p.m. in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City, UT.
As we look forward to the concerts here are 10 facts about one of our talented guests, Kelli O’Hara.
1. Her First Job Was “Chopping Cotton” Weeds Out of a Cotton Farm
Kelli grew up on a working farm in Oklahoma and explained to Ilana Levine on her Little-Known Facts podcast that her first job was “chopping cotton.” She explained that “chopping cotton” means chopping the weeds out of the cotton field. “When you chop cotton, you have to do it in the morning before noon because it just gets too hot, the sun is just over you like you’ve never known,” said O’Hara.
2. She and Kristin Chenoweth Have More in Common Than Just Oklahoma
Although Kelli O’Hara and Kristin Chenoweth have their own unique voices and talents, they both got their start singing in church, they were both opera majors, and they both studied with Florence Birdwell in Oklahoma. When O’Hara and Chenoweth were up for the same Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical in 2015, Birdwell declared, “They’re not competing against each other, they’re competing against themselves.” Despite the Oklahoma connection and often competing for similar roles, O’Hara and Chenoweth are good friends. In fact, it was Chenoweth who arranged an audition for O’Hara with her agent when she first arrived in New York City.
3. She Won a Tony Award for The King and I
In 2015, Kelli won the coveted Tony Award for her portrayal of Anna in The King and I. In addition to her impressive win, she has been nominated for many other Tony Awards, Drama Desk Awards, Outer Critics Circle Awards, Primetime Emmy Awards, and was given the Drama League Award for Distinguished Achievement in Musical Theatre.
4. She Played Two Roles in Follies in The Same Night
When Kelli O’Hara was part of the 2001 revival of Follies on Broadway, she played Young Hattie and understudied three other roles (Young Sally, Young Phyllis, and Young Heidi). Later on, after earning the role of Young Phyllis, there was one particular performance where the actor who was Young Heidi couldn’t make it and the new understudy hadn’t learned her new role yet. O’Hara gladly stepped in and played Young Heidi and Young Phyllis in the same performance. Impressive!
5. She Has Released Two Solo Albums
In addition to being featured on numerous Broadway cast recordings (two of which were nominated for Grammy Awards), O’Hara also has recorded two of her own albums. In 2008, she released Wonder in the World, followed by Always in 2011.
6. She Often Performs with Former Choir Guest Artist Matthew Morrison
In March 2008, O’Hara starred in the first Broadway revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacfic as Ensign Nellie Forbush. One of her costars was none other than our former Pioneer Day guest Matthew Morrison, who played the role of Liuetentant Cable. O’Hara and Morrison have also performed together in The Light in the Piazza on Broadway, in 4th of July concerts and special concerts such as this one below from Feinstein’s 54 Below, where the pair perform “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
7. She Has Starred in 12 Broadway Shows
Kelli has an impressive Broadway resume which boasts twelve Broadway shows, originating most of the lead roles. Here is a list of the productions she has starred in:
Jekyll and Hyde
Sweet Smell of Success
Dracula, the Musical
The Light in the Piazza
The Pajama Game
She Loves Me!
Nice Work if You Can Get It
The Bridges of Madison County
The King and I
Kiss Me Kate
8. She Has a Theater Named After Her in Oklahoma
Kelli’s theater, The Kelli O'Hara Center of Performing Arts, is located in her hometown of Elk City, Oklahoma. Her theater was dedicated in 2017 and is part of the Elk City Pioneer Center. “It’s really a beautiful facility, and it is unbelievable to have it. I have started a scholarship in my name for the school now for any student going into the arts—any arts—and I hope it encourages more of that sort of thing in Elk City,” said O’Hara.
9. She Was a Cantor in Her Catholic Church
While growing up on her Oklahoma cotton farm, singing was second nature to Kelli. “My sister and I would sing songs by the Judds, and I was the cantor in our church,” remembered O’Hara. A cantor is a person who is the music leader, and a general coordinator of the congregation’s worship experience.
10. She Honored Her Late Friend Every Night on Stage
When starring in the 2019 Broadway revival of Kiss Me Kate, Kelli kept her close friend’s spirit alive during each performance. Marin Mazzie, who originally starred in Kiss Me Kate in the 1999 Broadway revival, died of cancer in 2018. To honor and remember her, O’Hara said, “I have her with me every night. I make my entrance in the hat she made her entrance in. So, Marin Mazzie is on our stage with us every night. And her life made such an impact on me, so I carry with her every night. She was one of the strongest women I know.”