After COVID-19 forced the postponement of its originally scheduled date in May 2020, Tony Award winner and Emmy and Grammy nominee Kelli O’Hara launched the premiere Diamond Series of top-of-the-line full-length dinner concerts at Feinstein’s/54 Below last night with her first solo show at the iconic nightclub, and it was a gem!
Upon arrival, patrons were greeted with a sparkling welcome drink, followed by a canape tray and three-course dinner with haute-cuisine selections to satisfy every palate (including vegetarian). The five-star quality of the meal was the perfect complement to the extraordinary talent of O’Hara, whose pure, clear, smooth soprano (she received her training and degree in classical opera), expressive delivery, engaging personality, and luminary a-list of special guests made for one flawless jewel of an evening.
The surprising set list (which, she revealed, she changed from what she had planned for last year) not only featured meaningful songs and memories from some of the hit Broadway musicals in which she starred (The Light in the Piazza, The Bridges of Madison County; The King and I), but also mash-ups and favorites from other acclaimed musicals and the Great American Songbook (including an affectingly gentle version of “Without a Song,” popularized by Frank Sinatra), her interpretation of “What Is It about Her?” (a “man song” that she had always wanted to perform from Andrew Lippa’s Wild Party), and tributes to her late voice teacher Florence Birdwell and dear friend Rebecca Luker.
In signature style, O’Hara’s exquisite solos – accompanied on piano by Music Director Dan Lipton leading a terrific band – were deeply felt and unforgettably moving, as were her emotionally compelling duets with past co-stars Ruthie Anne Miles and Steven Pasquale, and composer Jason Robert Brown, who sat in on piano for the glorious vocal renditions of his songs. And yet another highlight of the concert (but what wasn’t a highlight in this phenomenal show?) was the beautiful three-part harmony on the James Taylor tune “Walk Down that Lonesome Road,” performed a cappella with father-in-law James Naughton and husband Greg Naughton.
Along with the more serious segments came expressions of joy at being back on the live stage and laugh-out-loud performances of YouTube sensation Bo Burnham’s hilarious “Welcome to the Internet” and “A White Woman’s Instagram.” Enhanced by images from O’Hara’s social media posts on the digital screens flanking the stage, the songs clearly disproved the comical lyrics of her earlier number (originally written by Michael Heitzman and Ilene Reid for Rebecca Luker to showcase her comedic skills, then performed by O’Hara at Becca, the memorial benefit for ALS) that sopranos are “Not Funny” – with which O’Hara elicited howls from the 54 Below audience, while hitting and sustaining the highest of high notes.
Diamond Series: Kelli O’Hara is both touching and fun, immeasurably impressive and supremely entertaining. It’s an experience that offers the very best of New York and is worth its weight in gold.
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, including an encore.
Diamond Series: Kelli O’Hara plays through Sunday, October 3, at 8:30 pm (doors open at 5:00 pm), at Feinstein’s/54 Below, 54 W. 54th Street, Cellar, NYC. For tickets (priced at $300-475, including a welcome drink, three-course dinner, taxes, and tip, with additional drinks billed separately), call (646) 476-3551, or go online. Proof of COVID-19 vaccination is required to enter the club.