I had heard the name Kelli O’Hara but I had never heard the Tony Award-Winner sing until Tuesday, November 27, at Symphony Hall. About 30 seconds in, my eyes were tearing up.
Her first song was “Getting to Know You” from The King and I by Rodgers and Hammerstein. O’Hara established a connection with the audience by having us sing along with her on the chorus. Very few things will bring a group of people together faster or better than having them sing with each other.
By the time she started her second song, “A Wonderful Guy” from South Pacific, I was in love with a wonderful singer. Her intonation was spotless. Her vowel production was consistent. Her registration, while not seamless, was well coordinated. Her legato was flawless. Her breath was engaged, and her heart was in the text.
That first set of songs, which also included “So in Love” from Kiss me Kate by Cole Porter, was the high watermark of the concert for me. Matthew Morrison joined O’Hara for the duet “People Will Say We’re in Love” from Oklahoma! which concluded the first section of the concert.
Morrison then sang his own set of songs which included “The Lady is a Tramp” from Babes in Arms and a medley from South Pacific amongst others. O’Hara came out to join him in the duet “I Have Dreamed” from The King and I and we were already at the intermission.
My concertmate and I gushed about O’Hara’s singing. We talked about how she must have trained classically and how she had performed the role of Despina in Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte at the Metropolitan Opera.
That’s when I realized O’Hara is the perfect musical theater singer. She can sing opera but the roles which would suit her best are the secondary roles, such as Despina. There is no way on earth O’Hara could handle the role of Fiordiligi, one of the lead roles in Cosi. Few singers who have ever lived can sing that role. O’Hara can sing opera but she isn’t an opera singer as such. That makes her beyond perfect for musical theater.
I hope that’s not coming off as a slight to her performance or abilities. You’ll recall I had tears in my eyes inside of a minute. It felt so good to hear those songs performed that perfectly with a 70-piece orchestra backing them up.
I’ve not said much about Matthew Morrison. He is a seasoned Broadway star who became famous as the teacher of the glee club in Fox’s hit TV show Glee. Morrison can clearly sing but it was his self-imposed choreography which stood out. His movement was full of glamorous masculinity. It invoked the glory of Gene Kelly.
The one criticism I can offer regarding this concert is the inclusion of music from A Light in the Piazza as the meat of the “second act”. I understand why it’s there. Morrison and O’Hara were the leads in the show when it opened on Broadway (Lincoln Center) in 2005. However, the style of the music doesn’t fit with the rest of the concert. In my opinion it needs to be in the first half of the show.