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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Kelli O'Hara - Always

Kelli O'Hara - Always
2011, Ghostlight Records

There are few performers on Broadway who can simply light up a stage the Kelli O'Hara can.  The three-time TONY Award nominee follows up her highly acclaimed appearance in Lincoln Center's revival of South Pacific with a new solo album.  Due out on May 31, 2011, Always finds O'Hara tackling a number of songs traditionally sung by male leads, as well as one hilarious original tune (written just for her) that shows off O'Hara's range as a vocalist, actress and, yes, comedienne.

O'Hara opens with a classic Sondheim love song in the form of "What More Do I Need?" (Saturday Night).  The light of love is contrasted against the dreary backdrop of city life, with O'Hara illuminating the song with the pure joy of the moment.  If you've never heard O'Hara sing, then any performance is a treat, but she's at her best here.  "Something Wonderful (The King And I) finds O'Hara wax poetic over her love for an imperfect man in a sweet interpretation that perfectly captures the spirit of the Rodgers & Hammerstein creation.  Vocal power and vulnerability blend in fascinating ways over a truly memorable melody.  "How Glory Goes" (Floyd Collins) is perhaps one of the more difficult songs to sing in modern Broadway, both for complexity and nuance.  O'Hara handles it like the consummate professional she is, pulling all of the disparate emotions that run between its lines together and wrapping them together in a performance fit for a Broadway diva.

"He Loves Me" (She Loves Me) is full of pure joy delivered over a light swing beat.  O'Hara's performance is full of pizzazz and charm.  Irving Berlin's "Always" is married to a lazy, sweet arrangement with Stephane Grappelli-style violin.  Some might find the arrangement a bit out of left field, but O'Hara makes it work.  "Finishing The Hat" (Sunday In The Park With George) is the hidden gem on the album.  O'Hara delivers a vocal performance full of love, heartbreak, desperation, hope and an almost bitter perseverance.  This is a Wow moment on many levels, both for the pure aesthetics of O'Hara's voice to the complexity and depth of the character she assumes. 

"This Nearly Was Mine" (South Pacific) is delivered as something of a pensive ballad and O'Hara's lyric interpretation is full of beauty rare and refined as it builds into a coloratura exploration of heartbreak.  O'Hara creates another moment as her voice dances with the waltzing bridge.  Listen for it.  "Once I Was" features full orchestration and one of those melodies you can't get out of your head.  O'Hara makes it hard to imagine anyone else singing this song.  "Another Life" (Bridges Of Madison County) is a gorgeous retrospective on the ashes of a relationship written in the distinctive style of Jason Robert Brown.  O'Hara finds a special synergy here, transcending the song.

"They Don't Let You In The Opera (If You're A Country Star)" was written for O'Hara by David Rossmer and co-producer Dan Lipton.  It's the hilarious story, in song, of a country star with a high-C and operatic dreams.  O'Hara will make your head spin with her transitions between Nashville drawl and Met tone.  While the song turns into a moral about not giving up on your dreams and who you really are, the song is a musical unto itself, and O'Hara pulls it off the way very few ever could.  "You're Always Here" documents the dichotomy of needing someone to complain about; she only remembers how bad things are when he's around.  There's a tragic feel to the song that O'Hara reads into the vocal line in subtle ways.  This O'Hara, sans belt, at her most vocally pure.  "The Party's Over" (Bells Are Ringing) finds O'Hara navigating Jules Stynes' gorgeous melody in chill-inducing fashion.  There's an utter, aesthetic beauty to the vocal line here that is startling, and O'Hara's voice cups the line like a precious gem.  Always closes with "I Could Have Danced All Night" (My Fair Lady), showing the grace and presence of a Broadway legend in the making on one of the Great White Way's most iconic songs.

Kelli O'Hara shows a depth and versatility of voice, presence and acting ability on Always that marks her as one of the greatest actresses of her young generation.  In a day and age where there is a distinctive split between "classic" and "new" Broadway styles, Kelli O'Hara is one of the few performers who could walk either path and do it well.  Whether reaching into the depths of a character or into the well of her classically trained voice for the perfect note, Kelli O'Hara dazzles you quietly with the poise and grace of a legend.  Even in couple of instances where the arrangements offered on Always seem a bit out of character with the songs, O'Hara makes them work.  That is the mark of a professional, and yes, perhaps even a legend.

Rating: 4.5 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more about Kelli O'Hara at www.kelliohara.comAlways drops on May 31, 2011.  Always is available for pre-order from as a CD or Download.

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