Klea Blackhurst
Klea Blackhurst
A veteran of shows such as Oil City Symphony and Radio Gals, Klea Blackhurst has lately made quite a splash in the cabaret world with her new show, Everything The Traffic Will Allow: The Songs and Sass of Ethel Merman. Having garnered raves in The New York Times from both Margo Jefferson and Stephen Holden, Blackhurst has now begun an open-ended engagement of the show in the cabaret space upstairs at Jack Rose.

Aside from the star's terrific voice, the show boasts some of the most delightful patter you'll ever hear, so we thought Blackhurst would be a perfect subject for a TheaterMania "Quick Wit" interview. I recently got her on the phone to try and find out more about The Woman Behind the Merman.

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THEATERMANIA: If you were a breakfast cereal, which one would you be?

KLEA: I don't ever eat cereal, only fruit. But, if I were going to be a breakfast cereal, I'd be Honey Nut Cheerios.

TM: What's the most important thing in your refrigerator?

KLEA: Water.

TM: Do you have a favorite cocktail?

KLEA: A greyhound.

TM: What's your favorite television show--past or present?

KLEA: Bewitched!

TM: How about your favorite movies? You can pick three.

KLEA: Sunset Boulevard, 101 Dalmations, and What's Up, Doc?

TM: What book are you reading now?

KLEA: Bedazzled.

TM: What disc is in your CD player at home?

KLEA: I think it's Ella Fitzgerald Sings the George and Ira Gershwin Songbook.

TM: Who are your favorite female singers?

KLEA: Well, besides Merman, there's Mary Martin, and Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl. And I do love Ella.

TM: How about your favorite male singers?

KLEA: I like really dorky groups--Queen and Freddie Mercury. That music just bowls me over. I also think Mel Tormé is incredible.

TM: Your favorite composer?

KLEA: It would have to be Gershwin.

TM: Favorite song?

KLEA: Oh, that's hard. I do know the songs I hate. I can't stand "Jeannie With the Light Brown Hair."

TM: What's the first song you remember singing as a little girl?

KLEA: "I'm An Indian, Too" from Annie Get Your Gun.

TM: Who's the first performer that made a strong impression on you?

KLEA: Well, it's not a famous person. I was in The King and I when I was 10 years old at the Pioneer Theatre Company in Salt Lake City, Utah. The king was played by John Cullum, but an actress names Patricia Keyes played Anna, and I just thought she was "it." I actually got to see her perform on Broadway years later in the Robert Goulet production of Camelot. She played Guenevere.

TM: When did you first become aware of Ethel Merman?

KLEA: Honestly, there's no time when I wasn't aware of her. We had the Annie Get Your Gun album, and that picture of her in the buckskin skirt with her hands on her hips was the image I had of her.

TM: What's your favorite Ethel Merman musical?

KLEA: Gypsy.

TM: Your favorite Merman movie?

KLEA: I think it's There's No Business Like Show Business. She's just adorable in that.

TM: And do you have a favorite Merman quote?

KLEA: Well, let's see. It's amazing how many people come up to me after the show with stories; I've become a clearinghouse for people who care about her. This is not really a quote but, in her autobiography, she talks about a lot of things and then, out of nowhere, she goes off on people who have colds. She says, "People who have colds should stay away from performers. A performer's body is their money in the bank. So when you have a cold, they'll say, 'Merman can sing over it.' Sing over it! Sing over it!" She puts that in twice, with exclamation points. She says, "Do me a favor, would 'ya? Stay away from me if you have a cold!" She's so completely individual and in her own reality. That's why I love her.