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The Broadway Career of Kelli O’Hara

June 6, 2024

by Ben Togut

On June 16, 2024, the 77th Annual Tony Awards will be held at the David H. Koch Theater, celebrating the best and brightest of this year’s Broadway season! The nominees include those onstage and off, mainstays and newcomers alike. In celebration, Broadway’s Best Shows is highlighting some of the Broadway perennials recognized with Tony nods in this incredibly fruitful year.

Over her career, Kelli O’Hara has cultivated a reputation that is synonymous with Broadway excellence. For almost 25 years, O’Hara has been a force to be reckoned with on the Broadway stage, captivating audiences with her operatic vocals and expressive onstage presence.

This season, O’Hara is nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical for her performance in “Days of Wine & Roses.” Here’s a breakdown of the Broadway productions that got her here!

Sweet Smell of Success (2002)

O’Hara originated her first Broadway role in Sweet Smell of Success as Susan, a woman whose older brother uses his connections to thwart her relationship with a man he dislikes. O’Hara starred alongside Brian d’Arcy James and John Lithgow in the production, which featured a score by Marvin Hamlisch and Craig Carnelia.

The Light in the Piazza (2005)

O’Hara’s next Broadway role was in The Light in the Piazza, where she played a young girl with a developmental disability who falls in love with an Italian man while vacationing with her mother. O’Hara starred opposite Victoria Clark and Matthew Morrison, showcasing her soprano performing the music of Adam Guettel. For her performance as Clara Johnson, O’Hara garnered her first Tony nomination.

The Pajama Game (2006)

O’Hara earned her second Tony nomination for her performance in the 2006 revival of The Pajama Game. In this musical comedy, O’Hara played Babe, a woman fighting for labor rights who falls in love with a superintendent, played by Harry Connick Jr. in his Broadway debut.

South Pacific (2008)

O’Hara next starred in the 2008 revival of musical South Pacific opposite Paul Szot and Danny Burstein. As Nellie Forbush, a young nurse stationed on a Pacific island who falls in love with a plantation owner during WWII, O’Hara performed Rodgers and Hammerstein standards such as “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy” and “I’m Gonna Wash That That Man Right Outa My Hair,” earning her third Tony nomination.

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Nice Work If You Can Get It (2012)

O’Hara next appeared opposite Matthew Broderick and Michael McGrath in Nice Work If You Can Get It, a musical featuring the classics of Ira and George Gershwin. In her role as Billie Bendix, a bootlegger who falls in love with a wealthy man, O’Hara showcased vulnerability and vocal prowess singing Broadway standard “Someone to Watch Over Me.”

Bridges of Madison County (2014)

In the 2014 musical adaptation of Bridges of Madison County, O’Hara took on another romantic lead as Francesca Johnson, a married woman who falls in love with a National Geographic photographer, played by Steven Pasquale. O’Hara’s heartfelt performance and mastery of Jason Robert Brown’s lush score earned her her fifth Tony nomination.

The King and I (2015)

O’Hara next appeared alongside Ken Watanabe and Ruthie Ann Miles in the 2015 revival of The King and I as Anna Leonowens, a British school teacher hired to be the governess of the children of the King of Siam. O’Hara once again proved her abilities as a leading lady, tackling Rodgers and Hammerstein classics such as “Getting to Know You” and “Hello, Young Lovers,” winning her first Tony award for her performance. 

Kiss Me, Kate (2019)

O’Hara starred in another revival of a classic musical, this time in 2019’s Kiss Me Kate. As Lilli Vanessi, a movie star playing Katharine in The Taming of the Shrew, O’Hara starred opposite Will Chase and Corbin Blue, singing Cole Porter standards such as “So in Love” and “From This Moment On.”

Days of Wine and Roses (2023)

O’Hara most recently starred in “Days of Wine and Roses,” for which she received her eighth Tony nomination alongside Brian D’Arcy James. O’Hara had a large role in conceiving the musical alongside Adam Guettel, a composer she collaborated with at the beginning of her career almost 20 years ago.