Kelli O’Hara Challenges You to Put Your Phone Away and Feel


Places, please for ELLE’s monthly column Showstoppers, where theater’s biggest stars reflect upon the moment in their career where the famous phrase “the show must go on” became a little too real. When things don’t go according to plan onstage, here’s how the pros react—and what they take away from it.

To kick off the new year, Tony-winner Kelli O’Hara, who currently stars as Kirsten Arnesen in Days of Wine and Roses, details a hand-crushing injury while playing Lilli Vanessi/Katharine in the 2019 Broadway revival of Kiss Me Kate. Here, in her own words, she shares how that experience shows the perseverance of the industry, and how the theater is one of the only places where we can truly feel.

I think of little things like accidents on stage or injuries where they happen, but you keep singing. There was one show in Kiss Me Kate when I slammed my finger in the door. It was plywood, so it bent, and when I came back from slamming the door, my hand didn’t come with me and my finger was closed in the door. I didn’t feel it until later, when my finger blew up and my nail fell off, the whole thing.

But I remember thinking, ‘Well, I can’t get my hand and my finger’s in the door.’ I then remember saying, “Little help, I need a little help.” And two people, including Will Chase, who was my costar, ran out and bent the door and dislodged my hand. I remember in that moment, I sort of stopped the show, but should I stop it? I turned around, and I took a breath, and Paul Gemignani, the conductor, had his baton raised and I started to sing. He was exactly in time with me. The band was in, and we finished the song and there were people out in the audience that didn’t even notice.

That’s what you have to remember. You think it’s the biggest thing in the world, and some people just don’t even notice. They think it’s part of the show. If you remember it that way, then you think, “I need to keep going, because I’m going to take people out of the story if I don’t keep going.”

a man and woman sitting on a couch and kissing

Joan Marcus

Brian D’Arcy James and Kelli O’Hara in Days of Wine and Roses

I think we’ve prepared to give you an experience, and we’re also on that train riding it. We want to have the experience ourselves, and it’s the shared adventure together. If we just stop it in its tracks, it’s like the bubble is pierced. You come out of the fantasy that we’re all in. It’s sort of delicious to me as an artist that we’re all taking each other on a journey. The show must go on. The reason we say that is because we don’t want to spoil it for anybody, even for ourselves. So, you grin and bear it and you deal with it later, I suppose. I mean, that’s the way I think about it.

a man and woman kissing

Joan Marcus

Now, we definitely had shows stop because someone in the audience is truly sick or something’s happening. I’ve been in all those shows, and they’re great stories to tell after, but that’s kind of the joy of it. Nowhere else in our lives can we kind of put the real world aside and live inside, dedicate ourselves to living inside this moment for a few hours with each other. We’re sort of sharing this present.

I think that’s what theater will never stop doing. It’ll be the place where we can go if we’re brave enough to actually feel. Even if it’s a hard subject, at least you can feel something. I think we have to do that. I don’t ever want to be numb. [Days of Wine and Roses] is about being numb and the problems with being numb: numbing yourself with alcohol, numbing yourself with social media, numbing yourself with whatever it is. It doesn’t necessarily serve us.

[Theater is] this opportunity we give each other if we all dedicate ourselves to it, to being together for just this tiny bit of time. If we do that, then the experience is that much greater. It’s hard for all of us to do, but I think we really need it. We really need to remind ourselves what it means to actually feel.

a man and woman kissing

Joan Marcus


“I brought the idea of this project to Adam Guettel 21 years ago. I had been working with Brian d’Arcy James on the Sweet Smell of Success on Broadway. We closed in June that year, and I went out to Sundance to do the first workshop of The Light in the Piazza. It was the very beginning of my career, and I loved working with Brian. So, when Sweet Smell of Success closed, I was trying to think of something that would be fitting for the two of us. I knew the movie [of Days of Wine and Roses]. I wanted to play something that was a different type of thing than an ingenue girl. I wanted to have some more substance. I wanted to go into something more challenging, that asked more of my craft, and here we are.”

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Kelli O’Hara currently stars as Kirsten Arnesen in Days of Wine and Roses at Studio 54. Tickets can be purchased here.

Headshot of Samuel Maude

Samuel is the Associate Editor at ELLE Magazine. He covers theater, culture, and anything to do with Taylor Swift. He famously broke both his arms at the same time in fourth grade.


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