Kelli O’Hara in ‘Seth Rudetsky’s Broadway Concert Series’ at the Merriam Theater in Philadelphia

Closing out their Concert Series Season on Tuesday, the Kimmel Center welcomed Kelli O’Hara, one of Broadway’s brightest stars, to the Merriam stage along with Seth Rudetsky for a conversation with a taste of cabaret. Uniformly recognized as one of Broadway’s most formidable leading ladies, O’Hara combines and Southern warmth of spirit with a biting wit and wisdom, not to mention a soprano range to reach the heavens and beyond. O’Hara’s sound is bright and bouncy with an easy, agile conversational style, fitting seamlessly into the work of composers such as Rodgers & Hammerstein, Adam Guettel, and Stephen Sondheim.

Kelli O'Hara. Photo courtesy of the Merriam Theatre.
Kelli O’Hara. Photo by Laura Marie Duncan.

Audiences will recognize Kelli O’Hara from her most recent turn in The King and I at Lincoln Center, which earned her a Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical, as well as other indelible roles in The Light in the Piazza, South Pacific, The Bridges of Madison County, and The Pajama Game. Others will remember her appearance as Mrs. Darling in the recent NBC live telecast of Peter Pan.

Seth Rudesky. Photo courtesy of his website.
Seth Rudesky. Photo by Lauren Kennedy.

Seth Rudetsky has an equally impressive resume of accompanying within the Broadway community as well as authoring multiple books on the business, writing and producing his own work, and hosting in the afternoon on Sirius/XM Satellite Radio’s On Broadway.

O’Hara gave a wonderful taste of the tunes from some of her most popular roles, “The Beauty Is” from The Light in the Piazza, “I’m in Love With a Wonderful Guy” from South Pacific, “Getting to Know You” from The King and I, and more. But the real treat was her take on some of the greatest songs belonging to Broadway’s leading men with a little “non-traditional casting,” as she put it. The chance to hear an epic and unforgettable soprano talent interpret classics such as “Tonight,” “Finishing the Hat,” and “This Nearly Was Mine” is not easily found, nor easily forgotten.

The evening mixes a casual cabaret style with an interview format. Rudetsky and O’Hara mix playfully together alternating songs, with him and the piano, and personal stories in a talk-show style set up. Especially with a talent like O’Hara’s, each musical number stands alone as a gorgeously articulated story, but the extra bit to savor is the behind-the-scenes look at the Broadway business and how a star becomes a star.

Welcoming a very special guest to the stage later in the evening, O’Hara introduced friend and fellow vocalist, Kaytie O’Hara, with a heartfelt tribute to her talent and the trials she has endured in recent years.  In the midst of fighting a cancer that has physically impacted her at a young age, Kaytie’s vocal talent remains impactful. Treated to beautifully simple version of “What a Wonderful World,” the Merriam’s audience leapt to their feet with a well-deserved and heartfelt ovation for the courageous and talented Kaytie. Before returning to her program, O’Hara remarked that she would never forget that moment, without a doubt echoing the sentiment of everyone present.

The structure of Seth Rudetsky’s Concert Series brings charm and personality to the forefront in a casual setting perfect for an entertainer like Kelli O’Hara. The tricky balance of songs and stories displays the best of what such a masterful Broadway talent has to offer; a gloriously accessible soprano technique, a soulful approach to storytelling, and a warm, humble wisdom gained from years in the business. This event was the last in this year’s concert series for the Kimmel Center, who hopes to announce future events and artists soon.

Running Time: 95 minutes, with no intermission.

Kelli O’Hara: Seth Rudetsky’s Broadway Concert Series played for one night only, on Tuesday, June 14, 2016, at the Merriam Theater – 250 South Broad Street in Philadelphia, PA. For future events, visit their calendar of events.