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.  

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