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Kean University

Theatre and Music Students Perform with Tony Winner Kelli O’Hara

You know you’re having a good day when Tony Award-winner Kelli O’Hara insists on singing a second song with you before a sold-out crowd.

That’s what happened to 20 Kean University theatre and music students who auditioned to perform To Build a Home from the Broadway show The Bridges of Madison County with O’Hara at her Kean Stage concert on December 15 at Kean University’s Enlow Hall.  

After hearing the students sing in rehearsal shortly before the concert, O’Hara decided on the spot to add another song — Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! — with the chorus.

“We did this song, and I was so moved,” O’Hara explained to the audience. “So I said, ‘That was so short. You mustn’t leave. We have to think of something else to sing.’”

Some students’ harmonies were singled-out on stage when O’Hara put her microphone in front of them to showcase their notes.

“I really appreciate it,” she told the chorus after the concert.

It wasn’t the first time that Kean theatre and music students performed with Tony Award winners. In the past two years, they sang with Patti LuPone and attended a master class with Billy Porter. Students also sang backup for folk legend Judy Collins and America’s Got Talent finalist Sons of Serendip.

“We’re really lucky to come here and get these opportunities,” said theatre major Brianna Martinez from Belleville. “This was a great experience.”

In addition to opportunities through Kean Stage, students also get to work with guest artists through Kean’s music and theatre conservatories.

“It is the favorite part of my job, exposing students to people who do what they want to do, to give them a chance to rub elbows and be in the presence of such amazing talent,” said Holly Logue, director of the Kean Theatre Conservatory. “Many times, students haven't yet learned to phrase the music in a more nuanced, sophisticated way. To witness Kelli O'Hara's style and storytelling while sharing the stage with her is worth a semester of study.”

O’Hara developed a warm rapport with the students, joking with them after the concert and sharing her story of moving from Oklahoma to New York with a degree in opera performance.

“I don’t feel like it was that long ago that I was you,” she said.

The students admit that they were nervous and starstruck, but they were ready to seize the opportunity that they were given.

“It is so surreal and exciting. I can’t take my eyes off of her,” said Joseph Gottfried, a sophomore theatre performance student from Barnegat. “I am taking in everything that she is doing and how effortless she makes it look.”