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.

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