Heavenly Kelli O'Hara

by John Platt
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Kelli O'Hara has won a slew of Tony nominations (and my heart) in one Broadway musical after another - Light in the Piazza,The Pajama Game, South Pacific, Nice Work If You Can Get It. Her latest project is Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons, in Far From Heaven, the musical adaptation of Todd Haynes' 2002 film, through July 7.

Kelli plays Cathy Whitacre, the 1950s Connecticut housewife (Julianne Moore in the movie) whose carefully regulated life gets turned upside down by her husband's homosexuality and her attraction to a black gardener. It's a perfect role for her, drawing on her All-American looks, innate decency, and gorgeous soprano, and she beautifully registers all the conflicts roiling Cathy's world.

She's supported by a strong cast, including Stephen Pasquale (who played her Italian love interest in Light in the Piazza) as her husband, Isaiah Jongson as the gardener, and an array of good character actors.The creative team reunites Scott Frankel (music), Michael Korie (lyrics) and Michael Greif (director) from Grey Gardens, with book by Richard Greenberg (Tony nominee this year for The Assembled Parties). Allen Moyer (scenic design), Kenneth Posner (lighting design), and Nevin Steinberg (projection design) create a nice cinematic flow to the staging.

Right now it has the charm and intimacy of a chamber musical, with a pleasant score and one standout number ("The Only One"). Does it have the goods to go to Broadway? Good question. It might have to strengthen the ending, which falls a little flat. Conditioned as we are by the rearview mirror of Mad Men, we don't need a heavy-handed message about social acceptance. Still, put Kelli in the spotlight, and she will always shine.

 

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