She may be Broadway royalty, but Kelli O’Hara would be the first to admit she was a little surprised to be offered the role of Anna in the 2015 revival of The King and I. From her 2005 Tony nomination as Clara, an unusual young girl experiencing a whirlwind Venetian romance in Adam Guettel’s The Light in the Piazza,to singing Eliza Doolittle in the New York Philharmonic’s semi-staged My Fair Lady, she has been the go-to for the feisty young woman, and often in roles that exploit her applauded upper register. So successful is her classically-trained voice, she even conquered the Metropolitan Opera this year as the wily ‘maid’ Despina in a new production of Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte. But the role of Anna Leonowens, a widow and a mother, sits relatively low, and as a role tailored to the talents of Gertrude Lawrence, she speaks as much as she sings.

The King and I Kelli O’Hara and Ken Watanabe in The King and I. Photo © Matthew Murphy

“As I get older, the roles are what they are,” O’Hara says philosophically, speaking ahead of the worldwide cinema broadcast of her acclaimed...