Broadway has been abuzz for a year about the revival of South Pacific and its dazzling lead actress, Kelli O’Hara, who was nominated for a Tony as best actress in a musical. O’Hara’s humble Oklahoma roots produced a childhood full of church choir singing and Irish storytelling about her family’s background in County Clare. Her leap to Broadway occurred shortly after she graduated from Oklahoma City University. She told Irish America, “I found myself packing two suitcases with no clue and moving to New York City ten years ago . . . I just had a feeling that if I didn’t try I would never forgive myself.” Not only did she try, but O’Hara certainly succeeded, starring in musicals such as Dracula, the Musical and Jekyll & Hyde. She also received critical acclaim for her roles in The Light in the Piazza and The Pajama Game.
O’Hara uses honesty and personal history to develop her characters. For Nellie Forbush in South Pacific, O’Hara found inspiration in her grandmother. “I find everything in personal connections,” she told Irish America. “[My grandmother] was feisty. She grew up before the time of civil rights, when children were ‘carefully taught’ as the song says. She was the person in my head when I started thinking about Nellie.” Now with the success of South Pacific pushing her forward, O’Hara is working on a new musical called Writing Arthur, which tells the tale of a man writing a story about a village.
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