(Dec. 6, 2010)

Kelli, fresh from Nellie

Kelli O'Hara, so memorable as nurse Nellie Forbush in the recent Broadway revival of "South Pacific," admits she's still riding the high of that production as she plays Mamaroneck’s Emelin Theatre this weekend.

"I'm trying to soak it for all it's worth," she says with a laugh. "It was an uplifting and positive experience the whole time, and we don't always get those. We all felt it."

Saturday marks her debut at the 250-seat Emelin, but she'll have a local hand to guide her: Adam Ben-David, a Mamaroneck native, will be accompanying on the piano.

"Adam's a great friend of mine," O'Hara says. "He's a great spirit and he's so excited to be playing at the Emelin, because he used to see shows there."

For O'Hara, there's a lot more to do beyond singing these days.

There's Owen, her son, who arrived during the "South Pacific" run.

"Owen changes everything in the most wonderful way," gushes O'Hara.

While she sings plenty of concert dates — more than four per month — singing cabaret presents perils, O'Hara says.

"If you do too much cabaret, it kind of messes you up a bit," she says. "You don't want to get too dependent on that microphone and that intimacy, because with stage we all know that it's sort of a heightened performance. It's better for me to do a little of both. They feed two different sides of myself."

In cabaret, she's not a character.

"The way I look at cabaret is very much the way I would sing something," she says. "That's why I choose the songs I choose, because they can be brought out of a character and into me and I can sing them from my point of view."

With one exception.

"I've tried, but I cannot sing songs from 'Light in the Piazza' out of context," she says. "Their context is through her, through Clara. I can't think of them without thinking of her, so I do sing those in character. But in a cabaret setting, most everything else comes out of me."

Next month, O'Hara will be back in a more theater-voiced mode, at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall for a star-studded concert version of "Knickerbocker Holiday," the 1938 satirical musical by Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson. It will be directed by New Rochelle native Ted Sperling, O'Hara's musical director on "South Pacific" and "Piazza."

"Ted and I try to work together as much as we can," O'Hara says.

When she's not working, O'Hara, who call the Lower Hudson Valley home, just likes to relax with Owen and her husband, Greg Naughton.

"I'm here among the trees," she says.