Friday, September 25, 2009

The Host with the Most - Consul General of Luxembourg Throws His Own Party


Like the Hokey-Pokey "that's what it's all about."

(Photo: Charlie Levy)

(Photo Giana DeGeiso)

Call Me Madam is no exception. There is the relationship between the dashing young press attaché (Charlie Levy) and pretty princess (Giana DeGeiso); a handsome Prime Minister (Rob Hatzenbeller) and a brassy confident Ambassador (Klea Blackhurst).

 (Photo: Rob Hatzenbeller)

(Photo: Klea Blackhurst)

But these aren't the only relationships in the show. There is also the relationship between the people and their government officials; a nation and their traditions; and of course the relationship between "two mythical countries. One is called Lichtenburg, the other the United States of America."

If you know the show, or have been following the blog for the past month, you know that Call Me Madam is based somewhat on the very real relationship between the European Country of Luxembourg and the United States of America. What you may not know is that Call Me Madam is still strengthening the relationship between our two countries!

(Taken during Klea Blackhurst's trip to Luxembourg to star in a concert version of Call Me Madam produced by the Hon. Georges Faber, former U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg Ann Wagner and Klea Blackhurst hold a picture of the first U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg Perle Mesta.)

Tonight the Honorable Georges Faber, Consul General of Luxembourg, is hosting a reception after our final preview performance. In keeping with the show's themes, it will feature wine and cheese. The Consul General has also generously donated a number of photographs of Perle Mesta, which will be on display at the Eureka for the duration of Call Me Madam's run.

(The Hon. Georges Faber, Consul General of Luxembourg and his wife, Barbara Faber-Mohr)

Moonies, audience members, and friends of the Consul General will be mingling, discussing the show, and enjoying wine from Luxembourg's wine growing region along the Moselle river. The region produces some lovely whites and a sparkling Crémant.  The wines featured tonight will be a creamy-textured medium bodied Pinot Blanc (2007) with hints of apricot, apple, and pear; and a Crémant made from mostly Chardonnay and Reisling grapes, giving this well structured bubbly good acidity and a crisp, fruity finish.

The cheese selection is a traditional cheese from Luxembourg, Kachkeis. It is a cooked cheese best spread on country bread with Luxembourg mustard.  The spouse of the Consul General, Mrs. Barbara Faber-Mohr prepared both the cheese and a special pistachio hors d'oeuvres.

For those of you who have tickets to tonight's performance, you are encouraged to join in the festivities and help cement the friendship that Perle Mesta began some 59 years ago. Then come back to the blog and leave a comment about the party!

If you don't have your tickets for tonight, I'm afraid we are sold out. But don't forget, 42nd Street Moon also hosts a champagne and hors d'oeuvres reception after Opening Night (tomorrow), and there are still some good seats available. For tickets call (415) 255 8207 or click here.

Cheese, hors d'oeuvres, and wine for "Luxembourg Night" generously provided by the Hon. Georges Faber and Mrs. Barbara Faber-Mohr.

Hors d'oeuvres for Opening Night are generously provide by L'Olivier Restaurant.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Klea Chronicles - An Interview with Klea Blackhurst in Three Parts (Part 3)

(Photo: Billy Stritch and Klea Blackhurst)

This is the final installment of our conversation with the star of 42nd Street Moon's Call Me Madam, Klea Blackhurst. We delve into the beginning, and I do mean the beginning, of her career as well as discuss her concert and singing career.

On your website, you have a great story about Ethel Merman's first (and last) audition. Can you tell me about your first audition?

I do remember the local theatre company - Pioneer Theatre Company in Salt Lake City - was doing Romeo and Juliet. I was so into it that I just wanted to be Peter, the page, or anything they would let me do. So, I went and they said I needed a picture. I used my 7th grade school picture, you know the wallet sized one.

(Klea in 5th Grade)

I want on the stage and they told me to find the light. Which I thought was very good [pause] advice, in general. I went up on the stage and I did the entire Queen Mab speech, because I had memorized [Laughs] it of course, "Oh that I see Queen Mab..."

Now I think back to being a 7th grader and the director of the piece - who also ran the theatre company - came out in the lobby and said "we work with... you know we are affiliated with the university, so we cast students in these things. But I hope when you're ready to go to college you'll consider coming here and working with us."

He really took the time to let me know that it was not me - he'd be perfectly happy to let me be Peter, the page - but to come back. And I did go to school there and I did work for him many times in many musicals.

We Moonies know you as one of our favorite stage stars, but you do concert work too, don't you?

I do a lot of concerts; it's my favorite thing. I've actually invested a lot in that recently, in terms of taking a piece that has been arranged for my trio in the past-you take that and have someone orchestra that into something that's played by 70 pieces. I have a "Sam and Delilah," which is from Girl Crazy, that I do.

It's one thing to hear that on a piano, but to hear that coming out of trumpets, a trombone, and an entire brass section. It's unbelievably exciting. It's what I hope to do more of.

It's in the spirit of what I think performing that Broadway stuff is. You don't get 36-piece orchestras on Broadway anymore, you get 9, 10, 11 - 6 in some cases. That sound, you can still get that with an orchestra.

I love it. I love it.

Is there a difference between the intimacy of cabaret and large concert halls?

I think that it's important to fill the space you're in. If you're in a relatively small room with 70 people and we're being sort of intimate, that's one thing. I don't have to pretend there's a person there, when there's not a person there. If there's a person there, I play to them.

On the other hand, if you're in a 2000 seat concert hall and you really try to include everybody, just including them takes care of the difference.

You've created shows around Vernon Duke and Hoagy Carmichael. Why these composers?

I had had this great success with my Merman show, and then I was like "What do you do after that? Merman at the movies, Merman.... Maybe you just ought to leave her alone for a second."

In 2003 it was the Vernon Duke centenary: the 100th anniversary of his birth. So, I was doing a show at the Algonquin about all kinds of anniversaries that were happening that year. I thought, "Well I'll get three or four Vernon Duke songs so I'll have them and I'll perform them in this show."

I fell in love with him. Mostly this idea that every famous Vernon Duke song - cause people don't know who he is, but they know "April in Paris," "Autumn in New York," "Taking a Chance on Love," "I Can't Get Started" - these great songs that are standards, well I found out that every single was from a Broadway flop. Not just a flop, but big enormous tragic story flops. Then I started looking into it. It's a dangerous angle [for a performer] to come at a show [from the point of view of] "I want to explore failure. I want to celebrate failure." But it comes off a lot more fun that than that.

I used Bob Grimes here in San Francisco: Mr. Sheet Music. I sat with him for days. I took home three feet of Vernon Duke songs. If Bob and I liked the lyric, we put it in that stack. I took it home to see if I liked the melody.

[Billy Stritch and I] built a show like that. So we did a studio album with strings; it's beautiful
That's unsung about what I do. That needs a little more attention actually, the Vernon Duke. So go buy that one, that's a gorgeous album. [To purchase the album, click here.]

Then with Hoagy Carmichael, [pause] I have a good friend Barry Day. He likes me and he loves Billy Stritch. And he said, "You guys would be great together and you'd be great doing Hoagy Carmichael material." He took us to lunch and gave us Hoagy Carmichael songbooks. Miraculously, we opened our calendars and penciled in some dates about nine months in the future. We put a show together. And we loved it; that's been a couple of years.

I don't think of myself as a great interpreter, or "Oh I'm so important as an interpreter of American song." But I do think I have a unique take of putting things in context, and I find that people enjoy having these songs put in context that makes it mean more to them; because a lot of this is getting left behind.

I get amazed when I go around and do my Merman show. People don't know who Ethel Merman is anymore.

That used to freak me out.

Then I would find out they didn't know George Gershwin. I say, "You know what? This isn't their fault."

I'm not going to get antagonistic towards them. I'm going to get really cheerful about bringing all of this into a very fun, funny, smart retelling of some of this [music] and setting it in a context so people can find it. That's certainly what happened with the Vernon Duke.

The famous [songs] are all there [on the CD]; but then there are lots that sound as if they should be famous, that you kind of know; then ones you really don't know and [you think] "why don't we know that one." I enjoy that. It's a detective story, putting it all together.

Call Me Madam begins previews Wednesday September 23 and opens September 26 at the Eureka Theatre. For tickets click here, or call us at (415) 255 - 8207.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Klea Chronicles - An Interview with Klea Blackhurst in Three Parts (Part 2)

(Photo: Klea Blackhurst)

Part two of our conversation with Klea Blackhurst, Star of 42nd Street Moon's production of Irving Berlin's Call Me Madam.

Not many Moonies will probably know this, but you play the Ukulele?
I do play the ukulele, I do.  I’m glad you know that.  Yeah I do play the ukulele.

I grew up in a house that we loved ukulele.  We had this box with 30 ukuleles in it.  When people came over… we were weird. We played songs on the ukulele.  We had a big flip chart of like “Froggy Went a Courtin’’” and we just all played along.  We knew our C and our G our D7…

So I sort of incorporated that into my acts as I grew up.  My very first song I did – professional, in an act – was a version of “Mountain Greenery” with my ukulele.  I liked it so much that every show I did, I put it in.

For my Merman show, Everything the Traffic Will Allow, I chose to do, “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries.” 

It’s kind of a fun thing.  I actually only play well enough that it takes me a long time to learn a song, so I really only work myself up to one for every show.

Tell me about your Ukulele Collection.

Once people know you like things, you better like what you think you like.  You say, “I love owls” and you’ll get every figurine of an owl. 

A lot of people let their little ukuleles find their way to me. My friend just gave me a gorgeous one from… it must be from the 30’s.  I think she had it when she was a little girl.  It’s beautiful.  I get them kind of cleaned up professionally, you know give them the once over. For my birthday this year, a couple of my friends gave me this fabulous ukulele that is really made out of a cigar box, like you can open up the back.  This guy makes these amazing ukuleles. I have all kinds of different ones.

Will Sally be strummin’ a tune for the people of Lichtenberg?

I can’t imagine that Sally will be pulling out a ukulele, although we’re very early in the rehearsal process and you never know what will change.  I won’t put the final ix-nay on that, but I can’t imagine anyone… it’s already got an ocarina in the show.  I mean come on, you don’t need a ukulele after the ocarina has taken center stage.

(Yes ocarinas do exist)

Where does your characterization of Sally Adams come from?

It’s all kinda there. I think Call Me Madam is a little more evolved, in a way, from the golden age of musical comedies. I mean there’s some kind of like baddy-bing badda-boom lines. You say what’s there and be present in the moment.  It’s just written.

In the Irving Berlin score it’s really clear who she is and the cadence in which she speaks.  Like CALL ME MADAM, you know what you’re supposed to do there.

And [the characterization] is sort of new. I did a concert version of Call Me Madam, but I’ve never got to play the part and do the full script and everything.  So, I’m finding her. I try it out.

I let the script… and also a little bit of work on Perle Mesta, who this is based on.  But you know, I think it’s really more Merman than Mesta. It’s the concept of an Ambassador going to a tiny country – which was Perle Mesta – but I think Call Me Madam is definitely Ethel Merman as an Ambassador to a small country.

I just do what’s on the paper.

Can you tell me more about the Concert version you did?

It was so exciting.  I was asked in the late 2007 [by] The Rodgers and Hammerstein Company, which also handles the Irving Berlin catalogue. There were doing this concert that was going to Luxembourg – which is the real country that Lichtenberg is based on – they were going to do this concert version of the show and they invited me to come and play Sally Adams.

We did it in the “Carnegie Hall” of Luxembourg, then we did it in Perle Mesta’s house – which is still the Ambassador’s.  We did it there… a command performance with Marines and guests… her honored guests. Then a third performance, we did at the air force base for the troops stationed over there and it was… it was fantastic! It was really a once in a lifetime thing.  

We were guests of Luxembourg. So, we were taken here and there and got to go to their concert halls and museums.  It was really fun. 

It was a big honor to do it. 

Call Me Madam had never been done in any form in Luxembourg; I guess that’s kind of a badge of distinction… 

Who produced that evening concert?

[The Honorable Consul General] Georges Farber and he’s doing a Luxembourg night for us right? 

He’s handsome and adorable and the Consul General, and he’s stationed here in San Francisco now.  But he was in NY for a long time.  He is exactly what you’d want – like this fantasy.  He’s dashing and charming and a wonderful guy. He gave us a fantastic trip through his country.

Check back on Friday for the rest Klea about her concert career and her first audition!

Do you have any questions for Klea?  Leave them in the comments section and I’ll make sure to ask her!

Call Me Madam begins previews Wednesday September 23 and opens September 26 at the Eureka Theatre.  For tickets click here, or call us at (415) 255 - 8207.  

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Klea Chronicles: An Interview with Klea Blackhurst in Three Parts (Part 1)

(Photo: Klea Blackhurst)
Klea Blackhurst, the Star of 42nd Street Moon’s production of Call Me Madam, sat down with me yesterday for a great conversation about Moon, Merman, and much merriment. The next three blogs will include excerpts from that chat and next week you’ll be able to view the entire interview on YouTube.


You and 42nd Street Moon have a similar take on your work, can you tell us how you feel your work is similar to Moon’s and tell us about your experiences with working with Moon?

I love it… You know, what I do - as a solo artist - [is] seek out the rare the obscure. The stuff... you want to bring back, and show people “look how fabulous this is!”

That’s what 42nd Street Moon is; they’re the same thing on a much bigger scale with a much broader mission statement and it gives me a chance to go be somewhere and work with a great group of people. Cause I do a lot of stuff by myself.

But here, you’re in a show with other people dedicated to the same sort of goals. And wanting to show that stuff off. It’s fabulous. I couldn’t be happier, I’m really happy to be back.

And you are back in Call Me Madam playing Sally Adams, a role originated by Ethel Merman. Your first role with Moon in Red Hot and Blue was also originated by Merman. What other Merman shows have you been in?

I have done Anything Goes, twice. I did it at the Shubert in New Haven and then and also the Cape Play House. That’s another Cole Porter.

(Klea Blackhurst singing "Blow Gabriel Blow" from Anything Goes, introduced by Rosie O'Donnell)

Red Hot and Blue was really fun to do here [at Moon], because that script really hadn’t had a scrubbing in a long time. Like, Anything Goes was revamped for Patti Lupone, so that script is a little more modern… up to date… other songs interpolated into it.

[Red Hot and Blue] is very silly. I thought it was just as much fun as Anything Goes. I loved it. And it certainly… you could see this really big gap between the musicals of the 30's of Ethel Merman and Call me Madam, which is 1950… I feel like musicals have really grown up. [Call Me Madam] is just that much clearer, and cleaner.

But I loved Red Hot and Blue. I thought it was fun.  It was a lot of run around and going “Have you seen Bob?” and “What are we going to do?”

I think I must have said those two lines 600 times. So, that’s a pretty good day at the office, when that all you need to deliver is fun.

You also have a much acclaimed one-woman show of Ethel Merman music and stories entitled Everything the Traffic Will Allow: The Songs and Sass of Ethel Merman. What draws you to Merman?

I’m a belter, my voice… it’s the alto with a little bit of the extra… We just love to project. And if that’s the kind of voice you have – you know there are two types of women in this world, there is a Laurey and then there’s an Ado Annie [characters from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma]. They’re both in the show, but you gotta be one or the other. And there’s a Miss Sarah and a Miss Adelaide [characters from Frank Loesser’s Guys and Dolls] and you want to be one or the other, I’m just that other.

Merman is kind of the great… she’s just it, you know? If you have that kind of voice and you love musical comedy, eventually… as a kid, you’re going to end up knowing about her and loving her.

I didn’t realize how geeky I was, and how much more I knew than the average kid in Salt Lake City. I think she’s really fun to hear stories about.

She was so singular in her approach to life that she makes for a good story. And from a historian’s point of view – cause I kind of think of myself as a musical theatre historian who performs rather than writes. I write my own show, but I don’t write books, I perform what I find – from that point of view, she’s fascinating.

She comes right at the beginning... working with the Gershwins; and then you can go right through the rest of the 20th century.

You can go from 1930 to 1984 and find her working or connecting with everybody important in theatre from Cole Porter to Jerry Herman to Stephen Sondheim to Jule Style to the directors she worked with, to the designers she worked with, and on and on…It's just a unique place and career that she had.

It's just fun to study. I think she’s great.

She’s been very good to me. I try to be very good to her, but she has been, her career has been really good, my exploration has been really great for me. And I really love her.


Check back early next week for more from Klea about Call Me Madam, Luxembourg, and a certain small, stringed instrument.

Do you have any questions for Klea? Leave them in the comments section and I’ll make sure to ask her!

Call Me Madam begins previews Wednesday September 23 and opens September 26 at the Eureka Theatre. For more information click here, or call us at (415) 255 - 8207.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Will the Real Sally Adams Please Stand Up: Perle Mesta and Call Me Madam

(Photo: Perle Mesta on the Cover of Time)

Before Klea, before Tyne, before Ethel… there was Perle.


Perle Mesta! The original “Hostess with the Mostes’”

I knew that Call Me Madam was based on a real story, but I had no idea who inspired Sally Adams. I also had no idea that the lives of Sally Adams and Perle Mesta were so closely aligned.

Perle Mesta (originally Pearl Skirvin) was born in 1889 and, like Sally Adams, was the daughter of a wealthy Oklahoma oilman. She married a millionaire Steel manufacturer George Mesta in 1916, but was widowed in 1925 – the only heir to his fortune.

In 1940, she moved to Washington D.C., became active in the National Woman’s Party, was an early supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment, and switched party affiliations (becoming a Democrat). She also became D.C.’s No. 1 hostess, and quickly discovered a useful and economical secret: her kind of guests like to entertain each other. At Perle Mesta's soirées, Harry Truman played the piano, (then) General Ike Eisenhower sang “Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes” (in a shaky baritone), and Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt whistled in a duet.

A staunch supporter of Truman, she served on the Democrats' finance committee during his 1948 campaign and then acted as co-chairman of his inaugural ball.

(Photo: at Truman's Inauguration.  L-R Bess Truman, Perle Mesta, Harry Truman, Margaret Truman)

In 1949, Truman named her minister to Luxembourg. She was the first to hold the post – diplomatic relations with the country were previously handled by the U.S. ambassador to Belgium – and the third woman appointed to a foreign diplomatic post.

She served until 1953, becoming the first woman to receive Luxembourg's highest honor, the Grand Cross of the Crown of Oak.

(Perle Mesta in Luxemburg. Photo by Demitri Kessel)

A woman Ambassador being such a rarity, when asked how she wished to be referred to… she replied, “Call me Madam Minister.” Irving Berlin shortened this retort to the title of his show.

She also relished her new found moniker of “Hostess with the Mostes’” taken from Berlin’s song from the show “Hostess with the Mostes’ at the Ball”.

After leaving Luxembourg in 1954, Mesta spent much of the next decade traveling the world. She met with the heads of 19 different governments, even touring Soviet Russia. She narrowly escaped death in 1955 after getting caught up in a riot between Communist and anti-Communist factions in Saigon, Vietnam.

Mesta died on March 16, 1975, aged 85. However, her memory lives on in Sally Adams and the hearts and minds of many Luxembourgians where she is still thought of fondly.

For more about Perle check out this mini documentary:

Or you can read about her in Paul Lesch's Book Playing Her Part:Perle Mesta in Luxemburg, which he then made into a documentary entitled Call Her MadamAlso check out this fascinating google time line.

Call Me Madam starts previews Sept 23, opening night is Sept 26, and it runs through Oct 18th at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St. For tickets click here, or call (415) 255-8207.


Perle Mesta was a colorful figure for over three decades. She could be brash, having once remarked “Any B***h with a million dollars and a nice dress can throw a party in Washington.”

Do you remember reading about her? Or did any of you get a chance to meet her? Share your stories in the comments section and win prizes!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Cady Huffman to be 42nd Street Moon's "Hostess with the Mostes" for our first salon evening!

Missus Cady Huffman
(Sung to the tune of “Mrs. Sally Adams” from Call Me Madam by Irving Berlin)

Missus Cady Huffman
Requests the pleasure of your company
At a party and song
A Dorothy Fields
That she's giving at the Alcazar

Missus Cady Huffman
The queen of Broadway society
Anybody at all
Who's anybody
Will be gathered at the Alcazar

Missus Cady Huffman
Our very special guest who’s always in “Key”
Missus Cady Hoffman
Who says "The hell with all formality"

Missus Cady Huffman…
Missus Cady Huffman…
(Photo: Cady Huffman)
That’s right ladies and gentlemen.  42ND Street Moon is very proud to announce that Tony-Award winner Cady Huffman will be our Very Special Guest Star at the first salon in our series, this one celebrating the lyrics of Dorothy Fields on October 13, 2009.

Single tickets are now on sale for $70.  You can Join Cady after the show at a special fundraising reception for $30.  For tickets click here.