Kelli O’Hara

And so continues our musical theater week, with another favorite of ours (that we think our Mom may still have on VHS), The King and I. The musical officially opens at Lincoln Center tomorrow night starring Broadway’s poster girl Kelli O’Hara, who we’ve loved since she starred alongside Matthew Morrison (Glee) in Light in the Piazza. The actress filled us in on where she eats in Times Square, why she idolizes Julie Andrews and why beer is bad for your voice…

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From start to finish, what would be your ideal food day?

For breakfast, egg whites with veggies, hummus and avocado – and coffee. For lunch, a big salad with veggies, beans and nuts. For dinner, a big bowl of a veggie/lentil/rice masterpiece with avocado. And lots of water all day.

What are the best and worst food/drinks for ones singing voice? 

For my voice, the worst is beer, and too much coffee as it dehydrates. Acidic foods like tomato and citrus are tough and dairy can cause phlegm. Bad, bad. The best things are mint tea with honey, clean foods like veggies, and pineapple.

Pre and post show routines…

I do some sort of stretching/exercise to warm up the body and voice before the show, and drink hot tea (mint or green) or water. And after the show, I eat a little something, and because I’m a mom of two small children, I usually try to go to bed as soon as possible. There goes my social life.

What snacks/items are always with you on set?  

Water, water, water. Breath spray, tea, and admittedly, peanut butter pretzels.

How do you practice beauty from the inside out?

I try to keep my stress levels in check. I don’t always succeed, but stress and fatigue make me feel and look bad. Sleep is so important, and I have never been so aware of this as I am now that I don’t get as much. But no matter how tired or stressed I feel, breathing through a bit of gratitude can cure almost anything. I think gratitude makes a person beautiful. And water and eating clean!

What’s the rehearsal process for The King and I been like? What are you most excited about in terms of the production?

It’s been amazing and such a learning experience. In some ways, I feel like I actually am Anna Leonowens, walking into a new world and falling in love with it. The people in the cast are wonderful and full of pride. It is infectious. I’m so excited to understand the piece as it pertains to its audience. How does it move them emotionally; how will they respond? That will feed us as we start to put the pieces in place.

What have been your favorite spots to eat around Lincoln Center?

Things have changed a lot over the ten years I have worked here. Now there are little restaurants like Indie Food & Wine built right into the fabric of LCT. And Rosa Mexicano right across the street has been a long time favorite. But I mostly eat my day-to-day meals at places like Blossom, Nanoosh or Blue Dog Café.

What’s the role you’ve always wanted to play that you haven’t gotten to yet?  

Well, it isn’t a specific role, but I would love to do a really great part in a contemporary straight play, like Proof. It’s not that I think I would be the best person for it, but it is something that inspires me. I’m always looking for those opportunities.

How has the theater industry changed since you started?

When I moved here, Broadway tickets were $75, and an audition guaranteed me at least sixteen to thirty-two bars of story-telling singing. These days, the shows cost $150+ and kids are given eight bars to scream. I just think, like a lot of things, theatre is getting so big. I sort of dream about the days when it was the intimacy and detail of theatre that made it so enormous in the hearts of theatre lovers.

What Times Square food spots are great and not so square? 

Schnippers is a pretty easy place to grab a quick meal. And definitely Glass House for a post-show hang.

Favorite way to unwind after a show…

I’m always a little slow to unwind after the adrenaline rush. If I have a rare night where I don’t rush home, I like to sit with some cast members and/or friends who attended the show in a dressing room and have a glass of wine. Once I get home I am very happy when I find any cooking show on the television. This brings me peace.

How do you always start your day on a good note?

I see my children. Easy.

What are five things you’re coveting right now? 

Sleep, a romantic trip away with my husband, more sleep, a whole summer with my kids, and some chocolate and caramel (since I gave up sugar recently!).

Can you pick a favorite memory from your career thus far? What was it?

When I sang I Could Have Danced All Night in My Fair Lady under a blanket in front of an eight-piece orchestra in Avery Fisher Hall, I thought I could die and go to heaven.

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Who you idolized as a kid and why…

Julie Andrews. She was always doing all the fun things, like singing high notes with children, flying with an umbrella, and being a classy lady. I loved her; I still love her.

What would your advice be to your younger self?

Just be patient.

Advice to actresses trying to break into the industry…

Stop worrying about other women and just get to work. And remember, nobody owes you anything. But you owe a lot to yourself.

What are your favorite cities for food? What restaurants do you go to in each?

Well, NYC is obviously outstanding, but I also think Chicago is an amazing food town. I haven’t been there in years, but places like Trio and Tru are and were beautiful experiences for me. And places like the amazing Frontera Grill are so fun and delicious. I crave Potbelly once in a while. I want to go back! I also love Austin, TX for fun places like Shady Grove and places downtown on 6th street. Even Chuy’s Mexican is a blast!

In the same vein as what is the new black in fashion, what’s the new potato in musical theater?

What has become very en vogue in the last five years or so is to have the whole cast – or parts of it – constantly present on stage as part of the world of the play. Constantly moving, changing sets, and portraying secondary stories. I love it because it’s so real and rich, but I also think it says something about our attention spans in theatre. But that’s where we are. We are forever evolving.

*Kelli O’Hara, photographed at Lincoln Center in New York, NY by Danielle Kosann. Kelli wears a 41Hawthorn shirt and a Lori McKean necklace