There’s a special energy generated when two stars known for powerhouse performances, but not known for performing together, finally join forces onstage.
Think Julie Andrews and Carol Burnett, in their 1962 Emmy-winning TV special at Carnegie Hall. Or more recently, the booty-shaking “abbondanza” that was this year’s Super Bowl Halftime Show, with Jennifer Lopez and Shakira.
There may be less booty shaking (one presumes) but expect that same crackle of energy when Tony Award winners Kelli O’Hara and Sutton Foster step onstage — together, for the first time — at Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts on Saturday.
“A number of patrons are flying in from all over the country,” says Staller Center director Alan Inkles, noting that ticket sales spiked once news of the double bill was announced last year.
The two actresses have 23 Broadway credits between them, including “Kiss Me, Kate,” “The King and I” and “South Pacific” (O’Hara) and “Anything Goes,” “Shrek” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie” (Foster). They’ve also racked up impressive TV credits in recent years, from O’Hara’s dramatic roles in “All the Bright Places” (just launched on Netflix) and “The Accidental Wolf” (which earned her an Emmy nomination), to Foster’s comic turns on “Younger” and “Bunheads.” But aside from performing individually on the same bill at a few random events (they shared a dressing room at the recent memorial for legendary Broadway composer Jerry Herman), O’Hara, 43, and Foster, 44, have never collaborated or sung a duet onstage. Until now.
The gala helps support the popular arts venue, which hosts the annual Stony Brook Film Festival (this summer celebrating its silver anniversary) and invites world-class talent to Long Island (renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman, soprano Renee Fleming, Broadway icon and Northport native Patti LuPone, among others). Gala proceeds also benefit Staller's Outreach & Education program, providing free arts programs and tickets to local youth, focusing on underrepresented families and communities.
For avid theater fans, the O’Hara-Foster pairing is something of a dream-team mashup, and will be the only time to catch Foster before she joins Australia’s Hugh Jackman on Broadway this fall in “The Music Man.”
The song list includes signature numbers from some of the leading ladies’ past roles, plus some personal favorites.
O’Hara says she’s been trying to diversify her playlist of late, balancing the classics (James Taylor, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone) with newer sounds she’s learned about through her children, Owen, 10, and Charlotte, 6.
“My kids come home from school and say, ‘Oh, play Bruno Mars,’ or ‘Play Imagine Dragons,’ artists I’d never heard. All of a sudden I’m downloading ‘Bad Guy’ by Billie Eilish and am like, ‘That’s good.’”
Of course, the kids also keep her on her toes.
“My husband (indie artist Greg Naughton) said, ‘Who’s Billie Eilish?’ and Owen was like, ‘DAD, I can’t belieeeeeeve you.’ Then, of course, she won all those Grammys this year.”
Will an Eilish tune make her Staller set list?
“I don’t think I should say,” O’Hara replies, a bit of mock caginess to her voice. All she’ll admit is that she and Foster have planned a couple of slightly unexpected duets.
“We’re trying to do something a little different.”
WHAT "Gala 2020: An Evening With Kelli O'Hara and Sutton Foster"
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Saturday, Staller Center for the Arts, Stony Brook University, 100 Nicolls Rd.
INFO Sold out, but to get on the waiting list, call 631-632-2787 or go to stallercenter.com.
Saturday night’s gala, “An Evening with Kelli O’Hara and Sutton Foster,” helps fund Stony Brook University’s Staller Center, which presents films, concerts, dance and more, such as the following events:
A CAPPELLA LIVE Versatile, high-energy vocals from four musical acts, including “American Idol’s” beatboxer Blake Lewis, arranged by “Pitch Perfect” maestro Deke Sharon. (March 14; $52)
RUSSIAN NATIONAL BALLET’S “GISELLE” This haunting classical ballet tells the story of a naive peasant girl done wrong by a seductive nobleman. Spoiler: revenge is sought. (March 21; $54)
BELA FLECK AND THE FLECKTONES You’ll never think of banjos the same way after hearing this game-changing banjoist and his jazz band, now celebrating their 30th anniversary. (March 28, $54)
“PARASITE” The acclaimed best picture Oscar winner from South Korea (part of Staller’s spring film series) is about a family of con artists and the yuppies they dupe. (April 3; $5-$10)
For tickets to these and other events, call 631-632-2787 or visit stallercenter.com.