Fresh from her Tony Award-nominated stint in the Broadway revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein's South Pacific, Oklahoma singer/actress Kelli O'Hara returns to her recording career sideline with her second studio album, Always. Unlike her Harry Connick Jr.-arranged debut, Wonder in the World, which featured songs by Billy Joel, Don McLean, and James Taylor, its 13 tracks are back on safer show tune territory, as she belts out numbers from several of the productions she's starred in, including My Fair Lady ("I Could Have Danced All Night") and Bells Are Ringing ("The Party's Over"), while also adding a neat twist by tackling songs traditionally performed by male leads such as Sunday in the Park with George's "Finishing the Hat" and South Pacific's "This Nearly Was Mine." Elsewhere, there are covers of standards from The King and I ("Something Wonderful"), The Bridges of Madison County ("Another Life"), and Stephen Sondheim's Saturday Night ("What More Do I Need") alongside pieces from less familiar musicals She Loves Me ("He Loves Me") and Floyd Collins ("How Glory Goes"). Apart from the jazz violin reworking of Irving Berlin's "Always," producers Dan Lipton and Lawrence Manchester stick closely to the originals, allowing O'Hara's timeless, versatile, and characterful vocals to shine, without being obtruded by overly fussy arrangements. But the sole new composition, the brilliantly titled "They Don't Let You in the Opera (If You're a Country Star)," a mini-musical in itself that sees her drift from a Nashville twang to operatic soprano in the blink of an eye, provides the album's highlight. With such striking original material, one hopes that O'Hara may leave the covers behind next time round, but for now, Always is an ever-charming journey through musical theater history that cements her position as one of Broadway's best leading ladies.
AllMusic Review by Jon O'Brien