TheaterMania Logo
Theater News

Kelli O'Hara: Fit for a King

The Tony Award nominee discusses her work in the Public Theater's King Lear and returning to Broadway in Nice Work If You can Get It. logo
Kelli O'Hara
(© Tristan Fuge)
Kelli O'Hara is best known for her Tony Award-nominated performances as good-hearted Nellie Forbush in Lincoln Center's revival of South Pacific, Clara in Lincoln Center's The Light in the Piazza and Babe Williams in the Roundabout Theatre's 2006 revival of The Pajama Game. But she is currently turning toward the dark side as Regan in the Public Theater's production of King Lear alongside Sam Waterston, Frank Wood, Michael McKean, and Enid Graham.

TheaterMania recently caught up with O'Hara -- on a busy afternoon as she was trying to juggle motherly duties after a sitter didn't show up -- to talk about the show, working with Waterston, and her return to Broadway opposite Matthew Broderick in the Gershwin-filled musical Nice Work If You Can Get It.

THEATERMANIA: To say that Regan is a change of pace for you is an understatement. How did your connection with this production come about?
KO: I started auditioning for Shakespeare in the Park a while back. I've always wanted to do a Shakespeare play, and I used to talk to Bartlett Sher [who directed South Pacific and Piazza] all the time because I felt he could really lead me well. Then I thought, "I'm going to go out and get one myself." So I auditioned for Regan. I wanted to try something new. Our director, James Macdonald, is an open-minded guy. I'm lucky that they're giving me a chance.

TM: Goneril and Regan are usually just paired together as the wicked daughters. How are you and Enid Graham making them individuals?
KO: There is a difference between the sisters. One's the oldest child and one's the middle child. I would say that Goneril is the one who always says what she thinks. I think Regan has held back and taken enough. She may have not always spoken first, but once she does, she unleashes a lifetime of being second. She's a power-hungry, insecure kind of person.

Kelli O'Hara and Frank Wood in rehearsal for King Lear
(© Nella Vera)
TM: Do you think the daughters have some fair complaint about how Lear has treated them? KO: They have huge ground to stand on in the beginning. If you consider having a father like him, these girls have been only taught to be abusive, to watch their back. It was unheard-of in the time period for a father to come live with you, never mind bringing a hundred knights. But, if we are to believe Cordelia and even Kent, we also know that we haven't been good girls.

TM: You're in one of the bloodiest scenes in Shakespeare, putting out Gloucester's eyes. Is that fun?
KO: It is, because Michael McKean is the victim and we've worked together before. I love the artistry going into the choreography of it. I'm gonna be seeing some blood, but hopefully we won't be ruining any of Gabriel Berry's costumes. There's some playing with how cold-blooded Regan is -- she's trying not to get blood on herself and wiping the knife on the servant instead. We didn't have that in South Pacific -- eyeballs flying out!

TM: How is working with Sam Waterston?
KO: Sam is wonderful. He carries a lot of authority, which is necessary, but he's also very generous and open and fun and relaxed. His Lear is exactly what it needs to be. He has the unsteady bit down completely -- you think that he's losing it. He's got a lot of colors. I always think companies lead from the top, and everybody in the room feels lucky to be there.

TM: What can you tell us about Nice Work If You Can Get It?
KO: It's kind of a last-minute addition to my schedule. I decided doing something fun wouldn't be a bad idea. Kathleen Marshall is directing, and I'll be working with her and her design team -- we all did Pajama Game . It's a new show with all of the Gershwin songs and a great book by Joe DiPietro. It's very funny and very fast, and I get to do another kind of role that I don't play that much -- a bootlegger in Prohibition. I'll try to bring a little heart to it. I'm excited about it!

TM: Do you know which Gershwin songs you will be singing?
KO: I know they'd like to have "Someone to Watch Over Me" in there, and also "But Not for Me."

TM: Now that you've encompassed playing a murderess and being a musical star, could Sweeney Todd be on the horizon?
KO: I'm always up for Sondheim if they'll have me!

Tagged in this Story