ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Broadway’s Kelli O’Hara has music on her mind as she comes to Dallas

With a new album and a headline gig in Dallas, Kelli O’Hara isn’t always a theater queen

RICH LOPEZ | Staff Writer

A day after her second album is released, Kelli O’Hara isn’t dealing with a tour publicist or her booking agent. Instead, she’s driving while her son is in the back seat. Not the image you immediately imagine for a three-time Tony nominee and Broadway star, yet it’s what you expect from the Oklahoma native.

“I’m sorry he keeps crying,” she says. “I’m trying to get him to sleep.”

As accomplished as O’Hara is, she doesn’t put on any pretensions of the star that she is. She only made her Broadway name with Jekyll & Hyde, followed up by Sweet Smell of Success: The Musical and The Light in the Piazza. All which helped put her on the map as a strong leading stage actress. She scored big with her role as Nellie in South Pacific, earning  her third Tony nom and second Drama Desk Award nomination.

Lately, though, she’s all about the singing.

“I really wanted a record that represented the solo concert I had been doing,” she says. “Always features theater music, but as soon as I made this one, I wanted to make a country album. I’m a little schizo that way.”

Practically just hours out of her second CD release, O’Hara is a mixed bag of emotions which lends credence to her admission.

“There’s always more work to do, but I feel relief, excitement — all of the above,” she says. “I’m excited to have this because I’ve been wanting a new album for a while. Now begins the fun…or work.”

O’Hara comes to town Saturday to headline the Dallas Theater Center’s fundraiser Centerstage. The Oklahoma native is familiar with these parts. She would visit Dallas on a regular basis for family reunions. As it turns out, that’ll be the case somewhat on Saturday.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve worked outside New York City,” she says. “I’m excited. And my parents will be there.”

But she is sensing a pattern in her special event gigs. When she discovered that drag queen Lady Bunny is DJing the night, she laughs.

“You know, I get paired up like that a lot,” she says. “I was with the Seattle Gay Men’s Chorus and then this drag queen Liza. I don’t know what I represent, but I guess it’s where I belong!”

Centerstage. Dallas Theater Center, 2401 Flora St. June 4 at 6:30 p.m.




—  Rich Lopez

Bunny hop

Lady Bunny comes out! (as more than a drag queen DJ)

Axiom Sushi Lounge,
4123 Cedar Springs Road.
June 3 at 8 p.m. 214-443-3840.


The Lady Bunny is most recognizable as that funny queen who created Wigstock, or as the DJ spinning at a circuit party in full drag. But the lady has a lot on her mind that’s not all fun and games. Though she’s never far from the sass.

“I really like to talk about issues because there is a lot of fluff on TV,” she says. “How great would it be if a gay channel would take on gay issues? I’d love that. Hear that, Logo?”

Bunny, who has practically made Dallas a second home lately, returns for a double gig this weekend: On Saturday, she shares the bill with Tony-nominee Kelli O’Hara as the DJ for the Dallas Theater Center’s Centerstage benefit. But Friday she returns to her performing roots for a birthday dinner and roast at Axiom Sushi Lounge at the ilume. And she knows the fish jokes should be easy that night.

“I am that tacky,” she laughs. “For me, I love sushi but drag and dinner only mix if there’s a girdle handy.”

Bunny is deeper than she usually gets credit for. Seeing Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart on Broadway forced her to recall activism then vs. now. Minus the makeup and music, Bunny is impassioned about that which affects LGBT people today.

“I think that gay people have to a large extent lost their fight,” she says. “I don’t really know how putting ‘Equality’ as your middle name on Facebook, or a piece of tape over your mouth, helps. I can’t see how these trendy campaigns substitute for hard work.”

She’s also inspired by her work as the Dean of Drag on the upcoming season of RuPaul’s Drag U. With an increased role this time out, Bunny still keeps the camp but adds heart for her makeovers. Real life women get makeovers, but also come with dramatic back-stories.

“These women, they give up everything for their kids and their man,” she says. “I cried a few times. It made me appreciate that nurturing vibe that mothers have. I don’t think gay men know that kind of sacrifice. This season has been a real eye opener.”

For now, she snarkily warns of her own eye opener Friday.

“Well, I have this delightful tribute to Burlesque,” she says. “Did you see the movie? Ugh.”

— Rich Lopez

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 3, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens