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.
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?
TM: Do you have a favorite cocktail?
KLEA: A greyhound.
TM: What's your favorite television show--past or present?
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?
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?
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.