Since her show last year at The Café Carlyle, O'Hara has clearly become more at ease with the intimacy of the genre, making eye contact with people in the audience and ad-libbing with easy charm, as well as allowing more of her own personality to shine through her music.
She has also built her act around some smart -- and unexpected -- song choices that show off her many talents to full advantage. In a show awash in highlights, perhaps the most exciting of them all was her rendition of "This Nearly Was Mine" from South Pacific. Having heard it literally a thousand times over the past three years, when she starred as Nellie Forbush in the Tony Award-winning Broadway revival, she yearned to sing it herself. With great attention to the lyric, O'Hara soared with emotion as she performed one of musical theater's great love songs.
Her rendition of "Finishing the Hat," written for the character of Georges Seurat in Sunday in the Park with George, made perfect sense from the point of view of a woman; moreover, O'Hara gave it a delicacy that made you listen in a different way than before. By the same token, she was playful and sweetly sexy when she turned Bock & Harnick's "She Loves Me" into "He Loves Me."
Of course, she didn't abandon traditional soprano songs altogether. She opened her show with Frank Loesser's "Somebody, Somewhere" from The Most Happy Fella, and her encore was "I Could Have Danced All Night" from My Fair Lady, both of which showed off her remarkable voice.
In between, she showed off her considerable comedy chops with "Opera Country" -- a specialty number by her musical director Dan Lipton and his writing partner David Rossmer -- and a sophisticated send-up of Stephen Sondheim called "You're Always Here," written by Next to Normal's Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey.
With a little bit of luck, Kelli O'Hara will stay here in the cabaret world for years to come!