Kelli O'Hara attends The 76th Annual Tony Awards at United Palace Theater on June 11, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)

10 Questions with Broadway and 'The Gilded Age' Actor Kelli O'Hara

Steve Duffy READ TIME: 5 MIN.

In 2006, Kelli O'Hara was nominated for her first Tony Award for her supporting role in the musical adaptation of "The Light in the Piazza," which won composer Alan Guettel a Tony Award for his score. Since then, the luminous soprano has become one of Broadway's most sought-after performers in both revivals of classic shows and new musicals, amassing seven Tony nominations, including one win – for her Anna Leonowen in the Lincoln Center Theater's revival of "The King and I." If reviews are any indication, she will likely be receiving her eighth nomination this season for the recently opened "Days of Wine and Roses," the dark musical that marks her second collaboration with Guettel and librettist Craig Lucas. The well-received musical is the pair's first together in 18 years.

In the show, based on a 1950s teleplay that was adapted into a memorable film with Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick, O'Hara plays a secretary – a non-drinker – who becomes involved with a public relations executive (Brian d'Arcy James) with an affinity for booze. It isn't long before she is joining him for more than nightcaps as their relationship becomes more and more alcohol dependent, much to their friends and family members' dismay. It's a serious subject, especially for a Broadway musical; but O'Hara and James make this couple descent into alcoholism both compelling and real. And as New York Times critic Laura Collins-Hughes points out, "O'Hara, in exquisite voice" sings "14 of the show's 18 numbers, seven of them solos," which makes the show something of an O'Hara showcase.

Brian d'Arcy James and Kelli O'Hara in "Days of Wine and Roses"

And if conquering Broadway isn't enough for O'Hara, she has also appeared at the Metropolitan Opera three times, most memorably as the troubled housewife in Post-WWII LA in the operatic version of Michael Cunningham's "The Hours." But it is her role on HBO's "The Gilded Age" with which she has found her widest audience. On the hit show, developed by Julian Fellowes (of "Downton Abbey" fame), she plays Aurora Fane, one of the fictional characters in this dramatic cavalcade of high society in New York City in the 1880s, when new money (represented by fictional tycoon George Russell and his social climbing wife Bertha) are making their place on the social scene, much to the chagrin of the old guard (of which Fane is part).

EDGE spoke to the very busy O'Hara recently about "Days of Wine and Roses" and "The Gilded Age."

Kelli O'Hara in "Days of Wine and Roses"

EDGE: Tell us about "Days of Wine and Roses."

Kelli O'Hara: It's a new musical based on JP Miller's 1958 Playhouse 90 Teleplay of the same title. Miller later adapted it for the film. This Musical has music and lyrics by Adam Guettel with a book by Craig Lucas. We are playing Studio 54 on Broadway for 16 weeks! The show tells a love story between two people battling alcoholism.

EDGE: What interested you in this show?

Kelli O'Hara: I was very interested in the subject matter as well as working again with my good friends and colleagues, Brian d'Arcy James, Adam Guettel, Craig Lucas, and Michael Greif.

EDGE: Tell us about Kirsten.

Kelli O'Hara: Kirsten Arnison is the daughter of Norwegian immigrants and was raised on a farm on Long Island. Kirsten is flawed, raw, honest, and lost at times. I love Kirsten but feel for her struggle with this disease.

EDGE: Given the dark subject of the show, how did you build your relationship with Brian d'Arcy James?

Kelli O'Hara: Brian and I have been friends for over 20 years. We have built these characters slowly and with great trust in each other and respect for each other. Every night is a bit different, and I think we catch each other.

Kelli O'Hara in "The Gilded Age"
Source: HBO

EDGE: This show takes place in the 1950s. How immersed can you get into feeling like you're back in time?

Kelli O'Hara: I have played a lot of period pieces, and many in this era. Sometimes it feels like the easiest as this is the era of the women who raised me. I know them well.

EDGE: How does this show differ from the 1962 film?

Kelli O'Hara: I have not seen the film since I was a teenager as I try never to revisit something. I'm going to try to build a new one, but the most substantial difference is that this is dramatically musicalized.

EDGE: What message and/or feeling do you want the audience to leave with?

Kelli O'Hara: Mainly these difficulties happen to all of us, to good, honest human beings, ourselves, our family members, our friends. There are no villains here.

Kelli O'Hara and Louisa Jacobson on "The Gilded Age"
Source: HBO

EDGE: I love your character, Aurora Fane, in "The Gilded Age." What is it like working on a Julian Fellows show?

Kelli O'Hara: I have loved every minute of it. I love the cast, the crew, the costumes! It's an honor.

EDGE: The costumes on the show are beautiful. What are your thoughts on the fashion of the era?

Kelli O'Hara: I think the fashions of the time have been beautifully interpreted by our designer Kasia Walicka Maimone and her team. They give the old money characters a more classic look and the new money characters riskier, forward shapes and colors. I think the costumes are some of the most incredible I have ever seen. And they are incredible to wear!! I love a good corset!

EDGE: Is there anything else that you would like to promote?

Kelli O'Hara: Love is love.

"Days of Wine and Roses" is currently playing at Studio 54, 254 W. 54 St., New York, NY. For more information, visit the show's website.

The first two seasons of HBO's "The Gilded Age" are streaming on Max.

Watch Kelli O'Hara sing "Take to the World" from the Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration.

by Steve Duffy

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