Kelli O'Hara and Brian d'Arcy James
Kelli O'Hara and Brian d'Arcy James

Kelli O’Hara & Brian d’Arcy James Reunite in Days of Wine and Roses

Musical-theater superstars Kelli O’Hara and Brian d’Arcy James are reuniting on the Broadway stage for the first time in more than two decades in Days of Wine and Roses. The show is based on the 1962 Blake Edwards film starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick as a married couple struggling with the harsh realities of alcoholism. The stage adaptation officially opened earlier this month at Studio 54 following a sold-out run Off-Broadway at the Atlantic Theater Company. Entertainment journalist from Spectrum News NY1 Frank DiLella recently caught up with O’Hara and d’Arcy James during a break from a rehearsal to learn more about Days of Wine and Roses.

Kelli, I’ll start with you: You were instrumental in getting this project up and running.

KELLI O’HARA: I planted the seed with [composer and lyricist] Adam Guettel. Adam went and got the rights [to the film] and started to write it, and then paired up with [book writer] Craig Lucas — a dream team — and we did workshops. But it was always intended for Brian and me to do this show together. I wanted to work with Brian again.

BRIAN d’ARCY JAMES: We’ve been working on this for over 20 years, off and on.

KO: Brian and I had just finished Sweet Smell of Success and I wanted to work with him again. I knew the movie, and I met Adam and Craig doing The Light in the Piazza out in Sundance in 2002, and so I gave Adam the idea.

What was it about this movie that spoke to you, Kelli?

KO: The era [the 1950s] is interesting, and I think I wanted to be challenged and step outside the “normal ingenue” thing. And at the time I had the idea, this felt dark and interesting to me.

You both are reuniting with Adam Guettel. Kelli, you did Piazza with him, and Brian, you did Floyd Collins with him.

BDJ: Having had the experience of doing Floyd Collins in 1996, there is definitely a great feeling of knowing the terrain and having a personal relationship with the composer, having been through this process already. We’ve known each other for a long time, so to be thrown into the deep end of this musical with that leg up is an advantage, and I’m grateful for that. I’m in awe of him.

KO: Same. We started Piazza in 2002 and did it in different cities, and as Adam and Craig were writing that, I was learning and growing and getting to know their style. As someone who has an opera degree and trying to come into musical theater, I wanted to find music that was more challenging and classically bent in some ways. And that’s Adam.

Brian d'Arcy James and Kelli O'Hara in Days of Wine and Roses. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Brian d’Arcy James and Kelli O’Hara in Days of Wine and Roses. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Brian, you play Joe. Who’s Joe?

BDJ: Joe Clay is a young man starting off in New York City after coming back from the Korean conflict. And he’s finding fast-track success as a PR guy and meets this extraordinary person named Kirsten at work, and they fall in love. And they are challenged by the fact that they’re both alcoholics. The heart of the story is a love story, and we’re communicating a story of two people who are fully alive but also fully challenged by the horrors of addiction and what they suffer from.

Kelli, what does Kirsten represent to you? 

KO: Kirsten represents for me the person who is hard for us in the world to understand if you’re not an addict or an alcoholic. I really care for her and love her. And in knowing her and loving her, I learn to empathize more with what so many people struggle with, which is that thing, “Why don’t you just get it together?” And there are so many people who literally feel that they can’t get it together.

The album of the show was recently released. Talk about this amazing jazz-infused score!

BDJ: It’s Adam’s unique voice, for sure — that’s where we start. He covers a lot of ground in this score in terms of style. It does emanate from that late ’50s New York City bar-hopping clubby feel. This is my perspective on it. Adam has a voice like no other and melodies that cut through me like a knife in the best possible way.

Kelli, what’s your favorite thing about performing opposite Brian?

KO: Freedom. I feel so free and protected and safe, and I know that if I fall, it’s going to be OK. Brian is very present — and I feel very present in this show, more than I ever have. It’s a joy to have that coming back at you. I don’t take it for granted for one second.

Brian, and you? Favorite thing playing opposite Kelli?

BDJ: All of the things she just said. The 20 years of friendship and the experience of doing this substantially at the Atlantic Off-Broadway. Knowing what it is that we created and knowing the depths of where this musical can take you to. Knowing the person you’re spending the bulk of the time on stage with is just as willing to jump off the cliff. This show requires 100 percent commitment and with a good friend and incredible actor who is with you. I think we both feel the same way.

Kelli O'Hara and Brian d'Arcy James in <i>Days of Wine and Roses</i>. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Kelli O’Hara and Brian d’Arcy James in Days of Wine and Roses. Photo by Joan Marcus.

This is heavy material for a musical. It’s not every day that we see alcoholism and the darkness that comes with alcoholism front and center in a musical on Broadway. How do you go there every night? 

KO: It’s a good question, Frank. I can’t put any sort of acting class information on top of that. I think I’ll go back to the freedom part. It’s about being safe and confident and present in the moment. The material is wonderful and written by very knowledgeable people, and it’s there to be trusted and it’s there to play in. That’s what it is.

Alcoholism and addiction are very real things. Can you talk about the importance of telling this story in 2024?

KO: We did a workshop in 2020 in masks — it was fully staged. And at the time we did it, I had lost two friends to addiction and suicide. And I feel like a lot of people went inside themselves and toward this during the pandemic. I also had a lot of friends get sober because of the pandemic. I feel like it’s interesting when you have a show like this: Drinking has always been in the world, it’s always been problematic for families, and it’s a story that almost all of us carry one way or the other. And the pandemic exacerbated certain things in certain people, and it was devastating. And I just think here we are, giving voice to, not the villainous “bad side,” but we’re giving voice to the humanity of it and the struggle, to the way it happens to good people. Because the two people I lost were good people, really good people. And I think it’s an important thing to represent.

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