Video by Ilea Shutler. Produced by David Fritze.

“Conversations” is a series of video interviews with Oklahomans about subjects that relate to some of the state’s important issues. The 2016-2017 series is sponsored by the Chickasaw Nation and is made possible by a grant from the Institute for Nonprofit News.



Broadway musical star Kelli O’Hara talks about how exposure to the arts makes a difference in people’s lives, including for students, and how she has had to deal with assumptions about her artistic abilities because she’s from Oklahoma.

During the past two years, O’Hara has reached new heights of success in her acting and singing career. In 2015 she won the Tony Award for best actress in a musical for her performance as Anna Leonowens in “The King and I.” The award came after 15 years on Broadway and five previous nominations. Last year she and director Bartlett Sher, who directed her in “South Pacific,” were honored in a concert by the New York Pops, and O’Hara made her solo Carnegie Hall debut.

O’Hara also was was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame last year, and in late 2015 was given an honorary doctorate from Oklahoma City University, where she had earned a bachelor’s in vocal performance and opera before heading for New York.


O’Hara was born in Broken Arrow, lived in Tulsa until she was 3, and grew up in Elk City. Her parents later moved to Edmond, where she attended Deer Creek High School for two years before going on to study under OCU’s legendary music and voice professor Florence Birdwell.

Crashing an Audition
In this bonus video, O’Hara talks about one of her breakthrough moments that had a surprise twist.


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