Kelli O’Hara’s concert last night was the culmination of a wonderful evening at George Mason University’s “ARTS by George” benefit. The concert hall at the Center for the Arts was full of an enthusiastic audience who had just been treated to samples of the work of student artists in many of the art disciplines at Mason. O’Hara had met earlier with students to talk with them about her career and answer their questions, and afterwards students were still somewhat giddy from meeting with her. During her Great Performances concert, O’Hara sang gloriously, spoke with straightforward passion, and welcomed the crowd into her song choices with lovely stories, both professional and personal. What a joy!
O’Hara was alone onstage with her pianist and music director, Dan Lipton. However, she brought with her notable names of friends and colleagues in her stories, which provided a context for her songs. Stories of auditioning for Marvin Hamlisch before recognizing who he was, playing on Broadway opposite Harry Connick, Jr. or Stephen Pasquale, or learning from her frequent director Bartlett Sher, provided joyful insights into her career.
As one of Broadway’s foremost leading ladies, O’Hara has also sung in operas at the Met and her repertoire included these styles as well as a few more personal song choices. While this post won’t provide a set list, it will touch on some of the numbers that were highlights of the concert. O’Hara opened the evening with the touching “To Build a Home” from The Bridges of Madison County. Many of the songs performed were similarly chosen from her roles on Broadway, such as the title song from Light in the Piazza and “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy” from South Pacific. She also took the opportunity to sing other favorites of hers from those shows, sung originally by other characters, such as “I Have Dreamed” from The King and I, a show which earned her the 2015 Tony, and “This Nearly Was Mine,” a favorite from South Pacific. She shared other numbers she referred to as her “Men” songs, which were originally written for male voices. A standout among those she sang was “Finishing the Hat,” one of two Sondheim numbers which she performed with nuance and clarity.
Providing personal insights, O’Hara sang a song written by her husband Greg Naughton, during which she had backup harmony sung by her multi-talented accompanist and musical director, Dan Lipton, who was responsible for song arrangements. A delightfully hilarious comedy song which Lipton wrote about O’Hara points to the unusual ability she has to sing both country/western and opera. It also provided her an opportunity to show off some of her operatic chops when she wasn’t breaking into a southern accent. Lipton’s arrangements all showcased O’Hara’s stunning soprano and accented her distinct ability to tell the story in the songs. Perhaps the most intimate moment of the evening was a heartfelt song which she had written herself for her new son, called “I Love You the World.”
The one time she was joined onstage was when she graciously had singers from a George Mason University vocal ensemble join her in “Climb Every Mountain,” from The Sound of Music. It reinforced her message regarding the power of the arts to transform lives, for both performers and the audience. Her encore “I Could Have Danced All Night,” was preceded by the lovely song “Make Someone Happy,” which was the central message she shared with the artists and art lovers at “ARTS by George.” Last night, Kelli O’Hara made many of us very, very happy.
Running Time: One hour and 30 minutes with no intermission.
The “ARTS by George” Benefit Starring Kelli O’Hara, took place for one night only on September 23, 2017 at The Center for the Arts Concert Hall at George Mason University – 4400 University Drive, in Fairfax, VA. For future events at the Center for the Arts, call (703) 993-8888 or check online.