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Broadway Star Joins Baseball's Adam LaRoche: Kelli O'Hara Prioritizes Kids Over 'The King...'

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 22/03/2016 Steve Schonberg

2016-03-22-1458613246-3242319-67efdc_5e7b848c7f3a48b1886530a74bf795bf.jpg © Provided by The Huffington Post 2016-03-22-1458613246-3242319-67efdc_5e7b848c7f3a48b1886530a74bf795bf.jpg Publicity Photo / Kelli O'Hara
Last week, Chicago White Sox's veteran first baseman, Adam LaRoche made national news when he announced his retirement from baseball to prioritize fatherhood over the professional demands of the game. LaRoche isn't alone in his choice. In February, Broadway megastar, Kelli O'Hara announced that she will leave her Tony Award-winning role as Anna in "The King and I" on April 17, after more than a year headlining the show. O'Hara will go from leading a cast of over than a dozen children, to focus on just two: her own. Both of their moves will surely disappoint some fans, but the truth is that even the greatest rewards for incredible talent isn't enough to replace all of life's demands.
Stars in any field may be heroes to many, but they're also mom, dad, son or daughter to a few, and like anyone, they have to make choices about how they want to balance their careers and their personal lives.
"My priority right now has got to be my kids for a little bit," O'Hara told Center On The Aisle's (#COTA) editor in chief, Steve Schonberg, in a recent interview. "It's a very emotional, very two-sided kind of thing. It's the most wonderful thing and the most terrible thing at the same time. I'm going to be a little bit of an emotional wreck," she said about leaving the show.
"I've been saying for a long time it is a balance, and I have a lot of help," O'Hara said about prioritizing her family. "I have my wonderful husband, and I have wonderful, young aspiring actresses who babysit for me. [But,] the truth of it is that at some point you have to admit, I really am not doing it," she shared candidly.
"You ask, 'How do you do it?' Well, the answer is, maybe I'm not."
"I actually cut out a lot. I can't tell you how many things I don't do, that I wish I could... but my priority and my want and my desire is to be with my children," she continued. "As they are getting older, they need me. I can't say to my producers, 'I need to work part time.' That doesn't happen in theater, it doesn't happen in television, and so you start to be at a point where you make a decision. You hope that the work is still there in ways you can do it, but if it's not, you're going to start to have to say 'no.'"
These are startling words coming from a star of O'Hara's caliber. She's among a small handful of actresses (which includes Audra McDonald, Laura Benanti, and Sutton Foster, all of whom also have a similarly passionate fan base) around her age who are currently dominating Broadway. Their names represent both the pinnacle of creative talent and a commercial appeal that can fill seats.
"I'm not saying you can't be a working mother and have kids," O'Hara commented. "Of course you can. But, in our business the work is the work; it is not a choice, [and] the schedule is not a choice," she added. "In some other people's jobs, they can cut their hours back... We really can't. It doesn't exist."
But, unlike LaRoche, performers - especially those in such high demand as O'Hara - do have the option to book concert dates in place of fully produced shows, which require much less rehearsal and performance time, and can offer more flexibility. This is going to be O'Hara's approach for the immediate future, as she has concert dates through the fall, including a semi-staged production of the opera, "Dido and Aeneas" at City Center in April. She also has a solo concert scheduled for Carnegie Hall in October (more about O'Hara in the MasterVoices production of "Dido and Aeneas," below).
While concerts offer a proximate solution, O'Hara, like all women, still experiences more physical restrictions than her male counterparts. She's had to balance work goals and its resulting demands, with her desire to be a mother and planning a family with her husband, Greg. "It's so funny because women, [we] work really hard for say fifteen years or something, and right when things start to pay off, is when you say, 'gosh, I better have kids now, or I'll never be able to,'" she shared.
But, like so many women, O'Hara has made it work. She'll turn 40 the day before leaving "The King and I," and has enjoyed leading roles on Broadway for over 15 years. She's starred in "South Pacific," "The Light in the Piazza," "The Bridges of Madison County," "The Pajama Game" and "Nice Work if You Can Get It," among others, has recorded two solo albums, headlined concerts, and more.
She took a maternity leave in 2009 from "South Pacific" to have her son Owen and was pregnant with her daughter, Charlotte, during "Nice Work if You Can Get It." After Charlotte's birth in September 2013, she returned to work quickly to star in "The Bridges of Madison County," which began previews in January of the following year.
See Kelli O'Hara Receive the #COTA "Our Leading Lady" Award in 2015:
Even stars like O'Hara worry though if these priorities are ever truly in balance, and if a focus in one area can be at the detriment to another. "There is that challenge," she said, posing a question in self-reflection, "if I give up or step back at all, am I doing a disservice to myself or the industry?" But, she dismisses it quickly. "That's when you start to take yourself too seriously... Anybody who's ambitious, things are never quite enough, and you want the next thing [and the next thing]. I am at a place where I say, 'well, shouldn't I be graduating into now doing this or that?' Then I ground myself as much as I can," she added.
"I had great parents, I married a man who is a great father and had great parents himself... To sacrifice my children and my family, and risk my personal life, I could just say, 'get out of my way, I've got things to do. I'm on a track, and I better get going, because if I don't, then I'll let down all of these people.' [But,] then, what are my priorities? Are they these people or are they my children?" she posed. "It's a challenge I have with myself all the time, [but,] when I look at those kids, everything in my career melts away."
"I don't know that it's possible on the schedule that's asked of me [for a full Broadway run], to continue all the time," she shared. "I can pick and choose and do an eight show a week schedule once in a while. As they get older, and they have piano recitals, and school musicals and baseball games... I had parents who got to go to those, and I'm well-rounded," she said. "I want the same thing for my kids."
"It's one of those things where you do have to start making sacrifices. I could go right back into another show this season, and I really wanted to do it, but I couldn't possibly do that to my kids, so it's going [on] without me," she said openly. "It's heartbreaking sometimes."
"I have to start making those choices, and you know what? I want to. I have actually loved what I got to have for me, and I want the same for them. I guess that's part of the give and take when you've accomplished as much as you have. You have a little bit of extra leeway to take a breath, and say, 'I just have to decide my own fate.'"
MORE BELOW... 2016-03-22-1458613313-627242-67efdc_178d2a5407fb485795ff18277c08191f.jpeg © Provided by The Huffington Post 2016-03-22-1458613313-627242-67efdc_178d2a5407fb485795ff18277c08191f.jpeg Publicity Photo / Kelli O'HaraA CLOSER LOOK: "Dido and Aeneas" and the Three Fates
In April, Kelli O'Hara will count the role of Dido, which represents a return to her operatic roots, among her concert appearances this year. Produced by MasterVoices under the artistic direction of Ted Sperling, O'Hara will join her former "The Light in the Piazza" co-star, Victoria Clark ("Gigi," "Sister Act") in a semi-staged production running at New York City Center from April 28-29. The performance will also feature a world premiere prologue by Michael John LaChiusa ("The Wild Party," "First Daughter Suite") presenting the three fates that control Dido's destiny.
The 17th-century opera, which had a prologue that is now considered lost, was written by English Baroque composer, Henry Purcell, with a libretto by Nahum Tate. The story is based on Virgil's Aeneid and presents the love between Dido, Queen of Carthage, and Aeneas, the Trojan hero, and then her despair when he abandons her.
Just weeks after leaving "The King and I," O'Hara says having had to face such an emotional situation will help with Dido's lament. "Where am I in my life right now? What's happening?" she said, providing examples. "I like to put every bit of what's going on in my life personally and professionally into my work."
"It's an interesting pairing for this show with Vicki [Victoria Clark], although we don't ever get to sing together. It is this idea that Ted [Sperling] had to put us back on stage together as enemies, as opposed to mother, daughter, and we have just come off doing the reunion concert of ["The Light in the] Piazza" (at Lincoln Center on April 4). It's going to be fun to work with her so much in a short period of time."
O'Hara's operatic roots date back to her years in college at Oklahoma City University, where she was trained by acclaimed vocal coach Florence Birdwell (who also trained O'Hara fellow distinguished alum, Kristin Chenoweth, among many others). But, O'Hara's primary professional focus has since been on musical theater, although her operatic talents were seen by fans, nationwide, via live simulcast when she starred in the Metropolitan Opera's production of "The Merry Widow" in 2015, opposite Renee Fleming and Nathan Gunn, under the direction of Susan Stroman.
"The role [of Dido] is something that I probably wouldn't have picked up to sing, because it's lower, it's really more mezzo... but, I think that my voice is filling out in the bottom because of I've been doing Anna in 'The King and I' and other shows like that. I'm excited to feel that space in myself and dig into that," she said.
As O'Hara weighs her priorities and career choices, she never forgets her operatic background. "I will definitely do more opera because it's something that I love to do," she said. "I got a degree in it because I was very moved and challenged by it, but I left it because I was very moved and challenged by acting, seeing it in different ways... What I do know is that I like to switch it up, and so doing one opera or two or three every few years, or whatever it is, is one of the things I consider a real gift... because it's the ability to use my voice and work on my voice in a different way. I would do it as much as I can, but it wouldn't be to the loss of the other types of things, too."
The MasterVoices' production of "Dido and Aeneas" will feature direction and choreography by Doug Varone, and will be conducted by Ted Sperling, leading the MasterVoices Chorus and Orchestra of St. Luke's.
Steve Schonberg is the editor-in-chief of and is seen regularly on NBC's "Weekend Today in New York."

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