How Kelli O’Hara Launched the 21-Year Journey of ‘Days of Wine and Roses’

How Kelli O’Hara Launched the 21-Year Journey of ‘Days of Wine and Roses’

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Fresh off an early workshop of “The Light in the Piazza,” the actress Kelli O’Hara had a passing thought: What if there was an ambitious musical adaptation of “Days of Wine and Roses,” the 1962 addiction drama that starred Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick? It could give her a chance to reunite with “Piazza” composer Adam Guettel and with the actor Brian D’Arcy James, with whom she had starred in the short-lived Broadway musical “The Sweet Smell of Success.”

Listen to this week’s “Stagecraft” podcast below:

“I just thought: What an awesome acting challenge and rich, artful experience [it could be],” O’Hara said in a conversation with James on Variety‘s theater podcast, “Stagecraft.” “Adam was intrigued by the idea and without me knowing, he went off and got the rights to it!”

It took 21 years of on-and-off work, but “Days of Wine and Roses” finally had its world premiere at Off Broadway’s Atlantic Theater last year and has just begun performances on Broadway. Both performers said they relish the opportunity to return to songs that can be challenging both for singers and for audiences.

“Adam constructs the composition to not necessarily introduce you to the melody straight away,” James explained. “There’s so much drama and character and story being parsed out through his music and in the structure of it, but once you get to a familiar landing spot — a melody — you are just overwhelmed by how satisfying it is.”

“Adam cares about how every single note matches the emotion,” O’Hara added. “He’s matching those vocal challenges to what the character is saying at the time, so when you, as a singer and an actor, learn it and digest it, you start to feel completely in sync with it.”

O’Hara also admitted that although she first imagined doing “Days of Wine and Roses” in her 20s, she’s glad for the long development process. “I realize now that I would have probably never been ready to play it then,” she laughed. “Nobody’s more naive than a 24-year-old girl saying, ‘I want to do that!’”

To hear the entire conversation, listen at the link above or download and subscribe to “Stagecraft” on podcast platforms including Apple Podcasts, Spotify and the Broadway Podcast Network. New episodes of “Stagecraft” are released every other week.

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