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Kelli O'Hara and Nathan Gunn: The melodic power of two

Kelli O'Hara is a Broadway baby, Nathan Gunn is an opera guy. They meet in the realm of classic musicals for a joint concert at Valley Performing Arts Center.

October 18, 2012|By David Ng, Los Angeles Times
  • Broadway star Kelli O'Hara and operatic baritone Nathan Gunn will perform show tunes.
Broadway star Kelli O'Hara and operatic baritone Nathan Gunn will… (Laura Marie Duncan )

Attempts at musical crossover pairings aren't always successful, sometimes resulting in more clash than chemistry.

In the case of Broadway star Kelli O'Hara and operatic baritone Nathan Gunn, their recent onstage collaborations apparently have proved to contain the latter, in abundance.

On Monday, O'Hara and Gunn will appear in a concert of classic Broadway show tunes at the Valley Performing Arts Center in Northridge. The program includes extended scenes from "Carousel" and "Show Boat," as well as songs by Cole Porter, Kurt Weill and Leonard Bernstein.

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The singers had never performed together until they were asked to sing a duet of "Somewhere" for Barbra Streisand at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2008. Three years later, they re-teamed for a benefit concert at Avery Fisher Hall in New York.

"We were thrown together, and we hadn't even had a rehearsal," O'Hara recalled about the 2011 concert. She said they had a brief run-through before performing with the New York Philharmonic.

"But it was one of the best times of my life. We didn't have to build the chemistry."

Their performance apparently went so well that they have decided to continue their partnership. After the Northridge concert, they will perform again on Oct. 27 at a gala on Long Island.

Gunn said in a separate phone interview that singing opera and musical theater requires a slight change in mind-set.

"Coming at it from the world of opera, they are particular about musical detail," he said. "On the musical theater side, it's about creating character and you can sacrifice some musical aspects to get the character across."

But mostly, "I go about it the exact same way as everything else," he continued. "One thing I do love is that it's our music, as Americans. It's music I grew up hearing in some shape or form. Maybe because it's ours, you feel freer. You can take liberties you wouldn't with Rossini or Mozart."

The concert program was devised by Ted Sperling, the Tony Award-winning orchestrator and conductor who has worked with O'Hara on "The Light in the Piazza" and "South Pacific."

"We were looking for material that would hit that sweet spot where both of their talents would be utilized," he said.

Sperling explained that he was also looking for extended musical sequences, "not just song, song, song. We were looking for more ambitious writing — where speech and song were interwoven."

The concert will feature the extended "bench" scene from "Carousel," in which the characters of Julie and Billy quickly get to know each other, imagining "If I Loved You."

O'Hara, a four-time Tony nominee, is performing in the Broadway production of "Nice Work If You Can Get It." She said she will board an airplane for the West Coast after the Sunday matinee and return in time for Tuesday evening's performance.

"I cram," she responded when asked how she deals with short rehearsal schedules. "You learn not to freak out as much. It doesn't always go perfectly. We mess up here and there, and hopefully, the audience doesn't notice."

O'Hara will perform in the new musical "Far From Heaven," based on the 2002 movie, at Playwrights Horizons in New York starting in May. She will take on the role of the suburban housewife, Cathy Whitaker, originated on screen by Julianne Moore.

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The actress is preparing to play another unhappy homemaker in an upcoming musical based on the bestselling novel "The Bridges of Madison County."

Gunn said he has begun preparing for "The Gospel of Mary Magdalene" by Mark Adamo, which will have its world premiere in June at the San Francisco Opera.

The opera will require Gunn — known for his hunk status in the classical world — to strip off his shirt and bare his chest. He said the opera includes a scene in which he is ritually bathed in oil.

"I might get a lot of hate mail," he said. But "it's not gratuitous. It's part of the story."

david.ng@latimes.com

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'Broadway's Classic Hits'

Who: Kelli O'Hara, Nathan Gunn and Ted Sperling

Where: Valley Performing Arts Center, Northridge

When: 8 p.m. Monday

Tickets: $40 to $70

Information: (818)-677-3000 or http://www.valleyperformingartscenter.org

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