Broadway star Kelli O’Hara to address graduates at UNCSA college commencement on May 7

Tony Award-winning actress Kelli O’Hara will be the commencement speaker at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, Chancellor Lindsay Bierman has announced. The star of Broadway’s hit revival of The King and I will speak during University Commencement Exercises at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 7, at the Stevens Center, 405 West Fourth St.

O’Hara won the Tony for Best Leading Actress in a Musical in 2015, for a performance that also earned nominations for Drama League and Outer Critics Circle awards. She had been nominated for Tony Awards five times before, for The Light in the Piazza in 2005, The Pajama Game in 2006, South Pacific in 2008, Nice Work If You Can Get It in 2012 and The Bridges of Madison County in 2013.

In addition to her Tony nominations, she has been nominated for two Grammy Awards for Best Musical Theatre Album for Nice Work If You Can Get It and for The King and I. She’s received multiple nominations for acting awards by the Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle Awards and the Drama League Awards.

“We’re excited to welcome one of Broadway’s greatest talents to the Stevens Center stage,” said Chancellor Lindsay Bierman. “Kelli’s extraordinary career inspires every student at UNCSA.

“Her industry experience, wisdom, and insights will resonate deeply with our graduates and their families,” Bierman added.

In The King and I, O’Hara played the lead role of Anna, a strong-willed British school teacher who arrives in Siam to teach the many children of the king. New York Times theatre critic Ben Brantley wrote of her performance, “As played by Ms. O’Hara, (Anna is) a smart, scrappy, willful pragmatist who also happens to know that love is often as strange as it is undeniable. That knowledge infuses every note Ms. O’Hara sings, and it is something wonderful indeed.”

Jason Clark, writing for Entertainment Weekly, said, “O’Hara could bring out the romantic swoon in just about any male costar, and Anna is another triumph in her winsome recent gallery of fine portrayals. (And hearing her luscious soprano on beauties like ‘Hello, Young Lovers’ is like finding a precious gift inside a jewel box.)” 

Drama Dean Carl Forsman, a longtime friend of O’Hara’s, said she is a great role model for UNCSA graduates who aspire toward careers in the performing arts. 

She's a brilliant singer, but she's more than that. She is the epitome of what we value: a master at acting a song.

Carl Forsman, Dean of Drama 

O’Hara will receive an honorary Doctor of Performing Arts degree during the ceremony.

Approximately 162 students will receive Bachelor of Fine Arts or Bachelor of Music degrees, two will receive Undergraduate Arts Certificates, 46 graduate students will receive Master of Fine Arts and Master of Music degrees, and two post graduates will receive Professional Artist Certificates.

On May 14, an estimated 125 high school students will take part in High School Commencement in a ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the school’s first high school graduation event. Alumni from the high school class of 1965 are expected to attend the ceremony. 

by Lauren Whitaker 

March 31, 2016