Kelli O'Hara stepped down from her role as Anna Leonowens in "The King and I" in April, after winning a Tony Award for best Leading Actress in a Musical (it was the sixth nomination for the Broadway darling; her first win.) The Oklahoma native won raves for her roles in Broadway classics such as "South Pacific" and "The Pajama Game," and starred in the new musical adaptation "The Bridges of Madison County," which premiered at Williamstown Theatre Festival in 2013, and in "Far From Heaven," which also originated at WTF, in 2012. On Sunday, the singer and actress will be performing an intimate evening of classic American Songbook selections at the Mahaiwe in Great Barrington. We caught up with the singer to talk to The Eagle:
Q: You're singing from the American Songbook. Can you highlight a few of the songs you'll be singing, and tell us why you chose them?
A: I like to offer a combination of songs from shows I have done and songs that are very personal to me and tell my story. Like "Wonderful Guy" from South Pacific to Irving Berlin's "Always." There will be some original songs as well.
Q: How do you know when you've found the right arrangement of a classic song? How do you make it your own?
A: My music director, Dan Lipton, and I work together to find the right arrangements. He has written the majority of them and knows my history and my voice very well. We have played together for over 10 years, so we just know when an arrangement feels right to us. I like to honor the classic style of a song but relax it to fit my style, and he knows how to put a little country in everything.
Q: What's your favorite theater to perform in, on Broadway or elsewhere, and why?
A: That is a great question and one that I have never been asked. It's very hard to choose because every theater has its charms and histories, but I have done three big shows in the wonderful Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center, so it is easy to say it feels the most like home to me, and I feel very free in the "thrust" style of the that stage. But I have had the honor of playing in so many wonderful spaces in this country so there are many favorites. But it's funny, for the 10 Broadway shows I have done, I have only worked in only six Broadway houses. Just by chance, I have played the same theaters more than once. The Belasco twice. The Schoenfeld (previously the Plymouth) twice and Lincoln Center three times.
Q: How did you know it was time to leave "The King and I?"
A: It's never the right time to leave a show. It always breaks my heart. But I knew going in that a year would be the limit for me having two young kids. My son (7 years old) and my daughter (2 years old) are growing up so fast. I don't want to miss everything. I love my work, but I have to find a balance. And creatively, I always want to keep moving forward.
Q: You were nominated for a Tony five times before winning last year for "The King and I." Where do you keep your award? How often do you polish it?
A: I have never polished it. And, admittedly, it lived in a cabinet for six months. It now sits on top of a shelf in a corner (I'm not too big on displays).
Q: You are up here a lot. What's your favorite place or places to hang out in the Berkshires?
A: We love it all! From Williamstown's Hops and Vines to Stockbridge's Red Lion to the outdoor kids concerts at the Lenox Library. It's all heaven. There is some form of art every which way you turn, and that is my kind of place.
What: "An Intimate Evening with Kelli O'Hara." Music from the classic American Songbook
When: Sunday evening at 7
Where: Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, 14 Castle St., Great Barrington
How: 413-528-0100; mahaiwe.org; in person at Mahaiwe box office — 14 castle St.