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Kelli O'Hara at the Cafe Carlyle

The Broadway star's new cabaret show is beautifully sung but lacks heat. logo
Kelli O'Hara
There are two very specific cabaret shows that we come across all the time, one of which usually features a Broadway star singing a generous helping of the songs that made her famous and patter that includes a story about how she found true happiness and fulfillment when she found the love of her life. That kind of act is just what Kelli O'Hara brings to the Cafe Carlyle. Fortunately, the very talent that made her a star in the first place helps trump its generic structure, and its overall lack of heat.

One of the hardest things any Broadway star has to do when they make their cabaret debut is to stop acting and be themselves on stage. O'Hara was natural almost to a fault. Earnest and sweet, she sometimes seemed downright shy on stage, especially when she was talking rather than singing.

Not surprisingly, she serenaded her audience with songs from her rapidly growing number of Broadway shows, including a gorgeous cut song from Sweet Smell of Success called "That's How I Say Goodbye" the title song from The Light in the Piazza, "Hey There" from The Pajama Game, and "I'm in Love with a Wonderful Guy" from South Pacific. These songs were both beautifully sung and beautifully played by a four-piece band that featured Antoine Silverman on violin, Howard Joines on drums, Mark Vanderpool on bass, and the exquisite leadership of musical director Adam Ben-David on the piano.

Then, all of a sudden, the woman we were waiting for emerged in a sudden, wild and wooly tour de force that was written for her called "Opera-Country." It was as if the song gave her license to cut loose, and she received the first real round of thunderous applause of the evening after that song.

That's not to say it was the only high point of her set. She was very touching when she described what it meant to her to sing "Make Someone Happy" to the famed lyricist Betty Comden in the living room of the elderly and frail icon when she was too weak to go out, and she performed it at the Café Carlyle with a deep and meaningful sincerity.

Indeed O'Hara sings with a purity of both voice and manner that is exceedingly rare these days, and which is a pleasure to hear on a Broadway stage or a cabaret room like the Carlyle.

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