Today was a tough day. Nothing particular happened. Just everyone I encountered, everywhere, struggling. I had plans to write an uplifting “last call” post about how energizing and rewarding it’s been for me, taking on this goal of one post a day for a month. For now, I will simply say that I am so grateful to those of you have been reading along (hi, Mom!), who clicked a thumbs-up icon or sent me a note. Thank you so much. Your encouragement buoyed me.
I wish I had more to offer in the way of pithy retrospection. But I’m played out tonight. So instead of blathering on about my blah day, I want to tell you about a concert I went to last night.
Broadway actress and singer Kelli O’Hara was in Cambridge for a night of song at Harvard’s Sanders Theatre, a gorgeous and stately wood-paneled performance hall, built in 1870 and used for Harvard’s commencements up until the 1920’s. Ms. O’Hara recently won her first Tony for her performance in the revival of “The King and I.” The word on the street, according to my two daughters in-the-know, is that she should have won on any number of other occasions, and this time around, her peers simply refused to deny her again.
Lucy joined us from Tufts, as did Mia and her high school advisor, who is a chorus teacher and avowed Kelli devotee. Before Ms. O’Hara took the stage, the producer came out to make the usual announcements: Thanks for coming, cell phones are bad (he said exactly that), we’re grateful to our sponsors. And then he said this, “Ms. O’Hara has been battling with laryngitis all week, and in fact, bowed out of two prior performances. But she loves Boston and really did not want to disappoint you all, so she’s up for it if you are.” Well, yeah.
Then out toddled Kelli O’Hara on three inch stiletto heels, a high-cheekboned, thirty-something, slim blonde with sparkling eyes and an irresistibly down to earth demeanor. “I’m glad he mentioned something to you before the show,” she told the audience. “I love to sing, and I really wanted to be here to do this concert for you. If we can all just accept that there are going to be a few surprises, I think it’ll go okay.” She then opened up those glorious pipes and delivered every kind of amazing artistry you could imagine: country, yodeling, Broadway, lyric, opera, and standards. Her rendition of Irving Berlin’s “Always” was lump-in-your-throat simple and sincere. She raised the roof with the signature title ballad from “A Light in the Piazza.” An opera major in university who had her premiere at the Met last year, she flawlessly navigated a hilarious country-opera hybrid (“it’s like Oprey, with an ‘A’”, she twanged in one lyric), soaring from hillbilly into an aria of incredible texture and precision. As the evening wore on, she started to run aground more often, her voice refusing to show up in a certain range, or sometimes (and I think this was maybe more disconcerting to her) croaking out before she could steer it back onto solid ground. She would acknowledge these glitches with a wry tilt of her head, without missing a beat. Even though she was only able to perform at a fraction of her usual capacity, it was more than enough. As John said in summary, “60% of Kelli O’Hara is like 5,000% of anybody else.”
Most thrilling about the evening was the intimacy Ms. O’Hara created by acknowledging her vulnerability. She came right out and said it: “This could be rough at times. I’m not sure when I’m going to hit some turbulence. But I’m going to give it my best, so if you can tolerate the suspense, I will, too.” And then this consummate artist, one the best vocalists of her generation, a master technician with a voice that has more colors and tones than Disneyland, shared an evening of exquisite imperfection with us. She told us about her commitment to her craft and the toll it sometimes exacts, she sang Sondheim’s “Finishing a Hat,” she guzzled tea and soldiered on. It was so much better than flawless.
A fun aside: I realized in reading the program that I went to college with her drummer, Gene Lewin. He was in the pit band of a musical theatre group I performed with. I went up after the concert to say hi, and he was as warm and witty now as the last time I saw him, when he still had hair, and I was still a brunette.
Time passes. We are imperfect. Our bodies sometimes stumble. We do our best, and hopefully, our work touches someone. Those are a few of the themes that writing my post-a-day-for-a-month has enlivened for me. I’m three posts short of my goal, but like Ms. O’Hara, I’m not going to let a little thing like imperfection stop me from doing what I love.
So I’ll see you again, sometime soon.