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. DallasTheaterCenter.org.