Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

O'hara Ready to Cross That Bridge

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

O'hara Ready to Cross That Bridge

Article excerpt

Just like offstage lives, the shapes of careers shift and evolve.

For Kelli O'Hara, who's starring in the upcoming Broadway musical "The Bridges of Madison County," based on the 1992 novel, this is an ideal time, with the personal and professional crossing paths.

"This show is coming at a perfect time in my life," she said in a 42nd Street rehearsal studio. (The musical begins previews Friday night at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre for a Feb. 20 opening.)

She was preparing her portrayal of Francesca Johnson, an Italian war bride who has a brief but idyllic affair with a photographer who's come to her rural Iowa county to shoot pictures of covered bridges. In the end, rather than run away with him, she decides to remain loyal to her husband and children.

It's a highly romantic story, and O'Hara is ready for that.

"Right now, I find myself crying at the drop of a hat," said the 37-year-old actress. "And I have a strong sense of responsibilities."

The reason for her weepiness and feeling of duty is new motherhood. She gave birth to a daughter, Charlotte, in September. (O'Hara and her husband, singer-songwriter Greg Naughton, also have a 4-year-old son, Owen.)

"I just feel all these emotions flowing through me," she said.

Sitting and chatting, the strikingly attractive O'Hara is natural, confiding and down-to-earth.

When she performs, though, she channels the soul of her character.

Even in the rehearsal room, singing a love duet with Steven Pasquale, who plays the photographer, Robert Kincaid, she vividly transmitted the character's aching feelings.

That ability to fully inhabit a role, to be touchingly or comically human, along with a meltingly beautiful singing voice, have taken O'Hara to the top.

She's perhaps the first name Broadway producers think of when seeking a female star. And writers create shows with her in mind.

"Kelli's just terrific; she's the best there is," said Jason Robert Brown ("Parade"), who wrote the songs for "Madison County."

Brown, who grew up in Monsey, in Rockland County, N. …

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