Lisa Kelly might best be known to audiences as one of the soloists in ‘Celtic Woman’, but her background is purely steeped in the world of musical theatre. Her parents are both heavily involved in Ireland’s amateur theatre community and Lisa fit right in, staring in the musical ‘Bugsy Malone’ at the age of 7. A talented actress as well as a singer, Lisa continued her studies in drama and was classically trained in both singing and piano. Her heart always belonged to the theatre though, where she has had principal roles as “Velma Kelly” in Chicago, “Florence” in Chess, “Laurie” in Oklahoma and “Sandy” in Grease. Lisa has also performed in numerous concerts in Dublin’s National Concert Hall, including “The Magic of Gershwin”, “The Music of Cole Porter” and “From Romberg to Rodgers’. She has won many awards for singing and drama in Ireland, among them the Feis Ceoil R&R Cup, The Tomas Moore “Singer of the Year” and “Best Female Performer” in the Northern Ireland Musical Awards.
By day, Lisa was working in the computer industry when she decided to take a break to perform in the Christmas Pantomime ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ in Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre. That decision led to her being cast in 2000 as the lead female vocalist in ‘Riverdance ‘ The Show’. ‘I feel so blessed,’ she says. ‘It really was a case of being in the right place at the right time.’ Initially, Lisa wasn’t sure if she was right for ‘Riverdance’. ‘I went into the show thinking I’d only last a couple of months. Even though ‘Riverdance’ is a huge show, it isn’t really a musical and it’s very much based on Irish music which was very different for me. Being there for so long opened my horizons for touring and heightened my appreciation for Irish music which is obviously really important for me now.’
Lisa toured the United States with the show for five years and met her husband whom she describes as ‘an Australian Irish dancer’ in the cast. In 2002, Lisa was approached by Celtic Collections and asked to record a solo album with Music Director David Downes. The album, ‘Lisa’ was released the following year to critical acclaim and features songs such as ‘Lift the Wings’ from ‘Riverdance’, and ‘The Deer’s Cry’ from ‘The Pilgrim’.
When Lisa took a break from touring for the birth of her second child, Downes approached her again. This time he said asked Lisa to become part of ‘Celtic Woman’ which was originally conceived to be a one-night show in Dublin’s Helix Theatre. ‘I wasn’t doing anything that day,’ Lisa laughs. ‘I thought it was only going to be one night but that’s how wrong you can be. I didn’t know any of the girls at the time but the show is blessed with the girls they’ve picked.’
Lisa has nothing but praise for the show’s creators, Celtic Collections founder Sharon Browne and Downes. ‘David and Sharon were very insistent that all the girls remained individual in ‘Celtic Woman’. It’s quite rare to be in a show that didn’t ask us to change who we were as singers and performers. So, as much as it’s a group, each individual performance actually is that; individual. The songs that were picked for me are very much contemporary Irish songs and I’m always given the pop or the musical-themed songs.’
Although she’s developed a great appreciation for Irish music, Lisa retains her love of the theatre and the theatrical. ‘Barbra Streisand would be my biggest influence because she can cross over between pop and theatre very, very well. I was also a huge fan of Madonna,’ she admits with a laugh. Her favorite role so far has been in ‘Chess’ due to it being in a rock opera format and admits that she’s performed ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ so many times that she could play almost any part.
But currently, she says ‘Celtic Woman’ is fulfilling my ambitions. I’m very lucky and I’m living my dream in so many ways.’ It helps that her husband and sons have been touring with her. ‘It wasn’t an option for me not to bring them with me,’ she says. ‘My sons love being on the road more than I do now. They’ve seen the show and, of course, Chloe’s their favorite. They know all the words and all the songs. They’re both quite musical and seem to have good ears and they love the bodhran and the drums.’
Unlike many performing parents, Lisa says that she’d be more than happy for her children to follow in her footsteps. ‘My parents were very supportive yet, as much as I wanted to, it was just a flook that I ended up in this business at all. Honestly, I still can’t believe I get paid for what I do.’
More information about Lisa can be obtained on her website www.lisakellysite.com