The Tabernacle Choir Blog

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.

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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.”

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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
    South Pacific
    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.”