Kelli O’Hara has been the belle of Broadway for the better part of a decade, reaping Tony nominations for each of her last five appearances on the rialto. However, she has yet to take home the trophy. That could change this year with her Best Musical Actress bid for “The Bridges of Madison County.”
In our recent webcam chat (watch below), she detailed her five-year involvement in the development of this tuner version of the Robert James Waller novella about an Iowa farmwife and her illicit affair with a National Geographic photographer. She admitted to being both flattered and overwhelmed when composer Jason Robert Brown (“Parade”) approached her to play the part of Italian war bride Francesca, which had earned Meryl Streep an Oscar nomination back in 1995. “The amount of miraculous writing and glorious singing he provided me was magical; I couldn’t believe it. The songs he showed up with in a matter of six months are some of the most beautiful I have ever gotten the chance to sing or hear.”
Surprisingly, this well-reviewed production was not nominated for Best Musical, despite the Tonys allowing for the potential expansion of that roster to five this year. That snub meant the show shuttered in late May after only a three-month run.
O’Hara may not have won a Tony yet, but she has been a good luck charm for her co-stars. In 2005, Victoria Clark won Best Musical Actress for playing her mother in “Light in the Piazza,” in 2008 Paolo Szot took home Best Musical Actor for wooing her in “South Pacific” and in 2012 Judy Kaye and Michael McGrath claimed the featured prizes for their scene-stealing opposite her in “Nice Work If You Can Get It.”
Looking back at her four previous Tony nominations, O’Hara was philosophical about those losses. While she was naturally pleased to be recognized for roles in the revival of “South Pacific” and the Gershwin trunk tuner “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” she understood why powerhouse performance by Patti Lupone (“Gypsy”) and Audra McDonald (“Porgy and Bess”) prevailed. If she is fortunate enough to win, she wants it to be for a role that “took the most heart from you and that doesn’t happen all the time.”
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And looking forward, she is delighted to be making use of her degree in music (she and fellow Oklahoman Kristen Chenoweth studied under the same teacher) as she is to make her debut at the Metropolitan Opera this winter in “The Merry Widow” with Renee Fleming and Nathan Gunn.
Will O’Hara finally win a Tony? After watching our chat below, make your predictions using our easy drag-and-drop menu.