by Matt Smith
“How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” a wry Matthew Broderick asks, mid-tribute to leading lady Kelli O’Hara, who was honored Monday night at the legendary venue, in an evening which also acknowledged the New York Pops’ 34th birthday. “You get to be friends with Kelli O’Hara!”
While obviously delivered in jest, anyone present at this musical bash could attest there was a slight bit of truth to that statement. Indeed, whether you were a friend or fan (or both!) of the six-time Tony nominee, Carnegie Hall was clearly the place to be on Tony Nominations eve. Stars upon stars came out in droves to serenade the woman of the hour with songs from all of walks of her career, from her Main Stem debut performance in Sweet Smell of Success through to her recent Tony-winning turn in LCT’s The King and I.
But the genius of these selections lies not in the fact that they were from these shows in which she appeared, sung by the luminaries who played alongside her in each of the respective productions (though indeed, that was a plus, don’t get me wrong). But rather, that the lyrics to these songs, taken out of context, so perfectly articulated her relationship to the community—how she feels about us, and how we undoubtedly feel about her.
For example, the aforementioned Broderick joined This is Us’ Chris Sullivan to relay a Nice Work tune (which the former did, in fact, sing in the show), whose words could presumably be construed to accentuate her physical features (“Blah blah blah your hair… blah blah blah your eyes”), while Hamilton’s Brian d’Arcy James offered a praiseworthy “At the Fountain,” whose lyrics, considering the fact it was her first, true Broadway lead, (“Looks like I’m at the start! / Yes, go with your gut and your heart. It’s time to tear through that door. It’s time now to soar! So let my life story start!”) fittingly prophesy her path to Tony-winning Broadway superstardom, and could easily serve as advice to the fresh-faced starlet in her first lead New York role.
But while O’Hara is no doubt deserving of praise (shall we not repeat Broderick’s opening quote?), the evening was not devoted entirely to the shining soprano: it also honored, in part, her Tony-winning partner-in-crime, director Bartlett Sher. (“You’ve never hired me, but I love you too, Bart,” Broderick quipped, on the subject).
To that end, Adam Kantor, late of Sher’s gorgeously reimagined revival of Fiddler on the Roof gave us that show’s “Miracles of Miracles” (a song that epitomizes how we feel about him!), while Grammy-winning Isabel Leonard shone a light on Sher’s illustrious opera career (he’s directed on and off at the Met since 2006).
O’Hara herself even made an appearance, to salute her mentor, “who’s given me so very, very much in my life and career,” with a chilling rendition of “Fable,” the final song in Light in the Piazza, to commemorate the start of their electrifyingly unequaled partnership.
Additional highlights looked back at the pair’s many other celebrated collaborations—as Pops conductor Steven Reineke called them, “multi-layered feasts for the eyes and the ears. Particularly enjoyable in that regard was a bouncy medley of South Pacific gems, which reunited original 2008 revival stars Danny Burstein and Paolo Szot (with a special guest appearance by powerhouse Ashley Park!), amidst a sea of young men and women from Camp Broadway, the annual summer program dedicated to bolstering kids’ confidence through a full-on immersion in New York theatre arts, who filled/flooded the stage with a welcome youthful energy, proving the work of the talented duo spans (and touches!) many generations.
And who could forget how the golden-voiced Steven Pasquale moved the room (accompanied on piano by composer Jason Robert Brown, no less!) with his reprisal of “It All Fades Away,” from 2014’s shuttered-too-soon Bridges of Madison County, of and in which Sher helmed and O’Hara starred. Tony winner Ruthie Ann Miles also offered the evening’s namesake, from the recent King and I revival which garnered her the award.
But perhaps the most poignant moment of the evening came when O’Hara’s three musical idols—Rebecca Luker, Judy Kuhn, and Marin Mazzie—took the stage with a jazzy redux of Styne, Comden, and Green’s “Make Someone Happy.”
Not only were the women—each a bona-fide star in her own right—in tip-top vocal form throughout the number, but again, the song dispensed/bled lyrics that fully exemplified O’Hara’s character. Indeed, as the song goes, the sound of applause is not what makes a life complete… it’s all about “making just one someone happy….and you will be happy, too.”
No doubt with her distinguished, decade-and-a-half career, filled with diverse roles and noteworthy Tony-nominated performances representing strong-willed women from all over the map, , she’s done just that. And it’s truly something wonderful indeed.
Something Wonderful: The Symphonic Spirit of Broadway, honoring Kelli O’Hara, Bartlett Sher, and Karen van Bergen, and featuring the New York Pops, was presented Monday, May 1st at Carnegie Hall (57th Street and 7th Avenue); Steven Reineke conducted. For more information regarding future performances, please visit
www.carnegiehall.org or www.newyorkpops.org.
Photo Credit: Maryann Lopinto