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Stage Door: Is Kelli O'Hara Obsessed with Best Actress Losers?

Here's Jose to talk about a currently odd Broadway trend.

People like to complain about the movies running out of ideas, with only remakes and sequels in production. But the stage is no different.

Here in New York, Times Square can fool you into thinking you've fallen in a time vortex which has dropped you back in the mid-90s. Billboards for Broadway shows adapted from 1990’s movies are all over the place (The Lion King, Aladdin, Kinky Boots) and two of the newest and biggest are for Bullets Over Broadway (which starts previews next week!) and The Bridges of Madison County. The latter makes me ponder the peculiar choices of its leading lady Kelli O'Hara. Is she secretly a cinephile or actressexual?  

More after the jump (help us guess what Kelli will star in next!?) 

Almost a year ago I sat in the audience for a stage version of Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven which had beloved Broadway star Kelli O’Hara play tragic 50’s housewife Cathy Whitaker. Julianne Moore's Cathy Whitaker in the 2002 film was a vulnerable, porcelaine frail creature coming to terms with the imminent shattering of the perfect world she’d been living in. O’Hara was also moving in the stage version but within the show’s even more obvious artifice (framed against Mondrian-esque metallic structures on which “Wish You Were Here”-like projections were displayed) she stood out as its only sincere element. She was pregnant during the show’s off-Broadway run (as Julianne was while filming the movie!) and other than admiring her vocal skills and worrying whether she should be running around and climbing stairs with her belly, I couldn’t help but develop an instant crush.

 The question then was, how long would it take the four-time Tony nominee to be back onstage after her baby’s birth? The answer was not very long. And with even more of an attention grabber: The Bridges of Madison County. When it was announced she’d be taking on the role of Francesca and performing a whole new set of songs written by Jason Robert Brown ("The Last Five Years") I was on cloud nine. But how would  O’Hara fare being compared to the Streep herself? Clint Eastwood’s version of Robert James Weller’s bestseller was unarguably the movie that “brought Meryl back” after a string of meh performances in the early 90s. But O'Hara fares just fine.

She's exceptional in the part, really, bringing an earthiness to Francesca that practically allows you to smell her sweat as she invites a handsome photographer (Steven Pasquale, who played her husband, the Dennis Quaid role, in Heaven) into her house. From there Kelly transforms into a devastating portrayal of cultural displacement and nostalgia. The day after I saw the show I couldn’t remember a single note sung by the performers (unfortunately the same happened in Heaven) but I kept wondering if Kelli O’Hara had made it her mission to play all the great Best Actress losing parts.

Do you think she’ll take on Becca Corbett next? Or maybe Julia Child? Or Bree Osbourne even? Will she be the casting director’s first choice to play Raimunda in a stage production of Volver

Which great Best Actress losing role deserves a stage version? And who would cast in that role? Have you ever seen Kelli O’Hara perform? 

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Reader Comments (6)

They both seem a little young for the Bridges roles?

March 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJamie

Jamie: For film, maybe, but that's what's freeing about casting for stage. Not as much visual scrutiny means that it's harder to be "too young" for a role.

March 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

or "too old" ... my chief problem with the constant Kelli O'Hara casting is that i don't like her all that much as an actress. her voice is so beautiful but she's just not a "star" to me. but yeah the movie thing is getting ridic' on stage.

March 4, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

For roles that deserve a stage transfer, I immediately thought of Passion Fish's May-Alice Culhane. In many ways, her story, personality, and dialogue seem more suited for the stage than screen. (In fact, it's amazing how well Mary McDonnell made that character work. Imagine Streep or Lange or Bening in that role -- it would descend into camp so quickly! McDonnell really doesn't get enough credit for that performance.)

Plus, you'd get two leading ladies for the price of one, as Chantelle is just as tricky and fascinating a character as May-Alice. Their stage dynamic would be completely different from their screen dynamic, but (hopefully) just as thorny and layered and compelling.

March 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLee

Margo Channing Margo Channing Margo Channing
That's all.

March 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJames T

I squealed with delight at the thought of a RABBIT HOLE musical and am now going down the - ahem - rabbit hole into dream-casting it. More ideas THE HOURS, AMERICAN BEAUTY, and REVOLUTIONARY ROAD.

Obviously though Marin Mazzie will have to play Becca in RABBIT HOLE. Kelli O'Hara does have a certain staightforward non-threatening appeal to her but I suspect that's what makes her so good at embodying these different characters. Her voice is also clear as a whistle.

How was Steven Pasquale, though? Behind Andy Karl he's the male theatre star I'm hoping grows to stardom soonish.

And now a digression:
The thing, is I think Broadway musicals from movies get a bad rap that sort of annoys me. I'm sure when the first Tony Award went to KISS ME KATE the theatre world collectively groaned and said, "Why can't we be original in our musical sources. Another play adaptation as a musical? Boo!" People have this weird antipathy towards any artistic creation based on previously popular material (leading to this weird thing in movies where even adaptations of regular movies is being poo-poohed in the face of "fresh", "innovative" original movies ides.) I mean, so much of the musical genre has been historically about using familiar stories to tell different tales to audiences so using one of the most famous current art forms (movies) isn't too weird a deal for me.

(Also, BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY is a novel before a movie anyway, so it's not even a straight movie to musical transition.)

(They're also releasing a TWO DISC cast album of BRIDGES which is great.)

March 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAndrewK

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