Review: Kelli O’Hara with ISO and Will Swenson at the Cabaret

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How do you like your showtunes?

Not do you like them, but how do you like them?

That was the question the weekend of Sept. 15 as musical theater lovers in Indy found themselves choosing between Broadway stars.

Kelli O’Hara (most recently seen in “The Bridges of Madison County”) had a date with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra while Will Swenson (taking a night off from his stint in “Waitress,” visited the Cabaret in the company of SiriusXM Broadway channel host and all-around theater obsessive pianist Seth Rudetsky.

Some of us opted for both.

I caught Kelli O’Hara’s Friday matinee set with the ISO, a slightly shortened version of what was offered Friday and Saturday evening. Here, banter was at a minimum, the better to have the star of the Broadway revivals of “South Pacific” and “The King and I” fit in as many tunes from those shows–as well as “Carousel” and “Oklahoma!”–as possible.  

Those big four Rodgers & Hammerstein blockbusters dominated the program, which showed little interest in lesser R&H. (No, theater geeks, there was nothing from “Allegro”). Ben Crawford and Ted Keegan–both with leading man credits of their own–joined as well, along with the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir.

It’s no surprise that O’Hara nailed not only the songs from her well-rehearsed and performed roles, but also found grace and nuance in the tunes from characters she didn’t play.

Granted, it’s a bit disconcerting to see folks in tuxedos and gowns singing rustic cowboy/farmer and seabee songs.

And while it wasn’t underlined, the fact that the ISO has more players than even a large Broadway orchestra (such as the one that joined O’Hara for “South Pacific” at Lincoln Center) made hearing the “Carousel Waltz” even sweeter.

In something of an experiment for the Cabaret, the program offered by Will Swenson and Seth Rudetsky offered more chat than song. But when the gabbing is this much fun, who cares? 

Oh, there was music. Swenson not only sang a wide range of songs–from “Hair” to a gorgeous hymn to a Mormon rap (long story that I can’t do justice to)–when he wasn't fielding questions and swapped stories with the fast-talking Rudetsky, a master of anecdote and attitude.

Ending with a duet mash-up of “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” and “The Confrontation” from “Les Miserables” was just sparkling, hilarious icing on a delicious cake.

Side note: Let's not underestimate the talent it takes to make such conversation feel so spontaneous while being funnier than most stand-up comedy specials. Here's hoping Rudetsky continues to add Indianapolis to his itinerary.

I wonder what Kelli O'Hara would have to say. 

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