Tuesday, Nov. 24, 1998 | 9:59 a.m.
Singer Paige O'Hara, guest star of the Flamingo Hilton's "Great Radio City Music Hall Spectacular," may have recently departed from the high-kicking show, but she's aiming for new heights with her latest children's CD, "Dream With Me."
Her syrupy sweet soprano voice takes listeners "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and into "Never Never Land" -- two of the 11 children's classics included on the album.
But the songs appeal to grown-up kids, too.
"It started out as a children's lullaby, now they're calling it a family album," O'Hara says, speaking from her Las Vegas home. "I've tried to make it appealing to adults, too."
O'Hara, whose most renowned credit may be her role as the voice of Belle from Disney's "Beauty and the Beast," will be making an appearance to promote the CD at Borders Books, 1445 W. Sunset Road, at 2 p.m. on Dec. 23.
Other songs featured on the album are "Tomorrow" from the musical "Annie," "The Rainbow Connection" from "The Muppet Movie," "Somewhere Out There," from "An American Tail," and one new composition by Ronnie Britton called "Merry-Go-Round."
Except for the latter, "It's all material that meant something to me growing up," she says.
"I thought it was important to include some classic composers," notes O'Hara, who also included "Count Your Blessings" by Irving Berlin and "Dream" by Johnny Mercer. "You don't have to play down to children anymore -- my 1-year-old niece responds to the classic stuff as well. I wanted the CD to be slightly sophisticated, there are so many out there that aren't."
When asked what music she herself listened to as a child, she responds without hesitation: "Gershwin."
That early musical taste may be what led her from her Florida birthplace to New York City when she was 17. O'Hara eventually landed starring roles on Broadway in shows such as "Les Miserables," and "Showboat."
O'Hara's first album, 1995's "Loving You," was a tribute to composer Jerry Herman which included love songs from "Hello Dolly" and "Mame."
Her husband, Michael Piontek, is also a musical theater performer, who played the lead role in "Phantom of the Opera" in Los Angeles, and is now a lead in the MGM Grand's "EFX."
But O'Hara's most famous role is one in which she can't even be seen.
"I have kids come up to me in the grocery store and say, 'Are you Belle?' I hear you all the time,' " she says incredulously.
And soon, there will be a whole new generation of children interrupting her shopping: the film, she says, is going to be rereleased next year, with previously unreleased scenes that were cut for time the first time around.
Oddly, this CD marks the first time O'Hara has ever recorded the movie's theme song, "Beauty and the Beast." The song was originally sung in the film by Angela Lansbury, then recorded as a pop hit by Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson.
At the Oscars, where the film was the first animated film ever to be nominated for a Best Picture, Dion got to sing the theme song, while O'Hara sang the song "Belle."
After singing the theme song in various venues, including in her stint with the Rockettes, O'Hara has finally recorded her own version of song.
She has also teamed up with Jodi Benson, better known as the voice of Ariel from "The Little Mermaid," on a duet of "When You Wish Upon a A Star."
The two have found that becoming so closely associated with a character can be a mixed blessing.
"Disney owns me, in terms of Belle," she confides, explaining that the company was relucant to cast her and Benson as voices in other Disney films. "When it comes to animation, they're not as open- minded as a new character."
Benson has finally "broken the mold," landing a role playing the voice for the new sequel to "Lady and the Tramp," and O'Hara has been given the go-ahead to appear in live-action films. Her first will be as a cabaret singer in a new film called "Bank Roll" starring John Travolta.
"I'm on pins and needles waiting to shoot my movie," she confides. "They're making me a blond, because they said I look too intelligent with my (natural) hair."
After that, life will imitate art as O'Hara and her husband will revive a nationwide tour of their real-life cabaret show, "From Belle to Broadway." They are currently shopping around for a local venue for the show.
That's because they need to stay home to begin collaborating on what O'Hara hopes will be her next release -- she and her husband are trying to start a family of their own.
O'Hara says, "We thought that doing the children's album might bring me luck."