I have known about Klea Blackhurst for quite some time now, but it wasn't until I saw her last June in Stephen Cole and David Evans' new show Merman's Apprentice that I really got to see and hear what she can do. Klea is a powerhouse vocalist, similar to Ethel Merman, which is why it's so fitting that she stars in Merman's Apprentice, which is coming back for a one-night only return engagement at Jim Caruso's Broadway at Birdland on Monday, January 18 at 7pm (315 West 44th Street, between 8th & 9th Avenue). The evening will also celebrate the release of the Original Cast Album produced by John Yap for Jay Records (CDs will be available at the show for purchase)! Click here for tickets!
Merman’s Apprentice is a tuneful new musical comedy about childhood, parents, Broadway, and Ethel Merman. Who could ask for anything more? Picture it: 1970. The Golden Age of Musical Theatre is drawing to an end. But twelve-year-old Muriel Plakenstein doesn't know that. So she runs away from home to become a Broadway star, and meets the Queen of Broadway, Ethel Merman, who takes her to a Hello, Dolly! rehearsal where they sing together. When legendary producer David Merrick hears the kid, he decides to star Muriel in the first all-child cast of Dolly! Naturally, Merman takes her under wing to teach her the ropes of being a star...making little Muriel Plakenstein Merman's Apprentice.
Klea Blackhurst will star as Ethel Merman with a star-studded supporting cast lead by Tony Nominee Anita Gillette, Fred Applegate, Bill Nolte, Adam Grupper, Eddie Korbich, Brian Charles Rooney, F. Michael Haynie, Desi Oakley, Sarah Sessler, a six piece band with orchestrations by Lynne Shankel, led by Lawrence Yurman, and featuring 13 year old Elizabeth Teeter as "Muriel Plakenstein."
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1. It's so great to finally get to interview you, especially after seeing you this past June in Merman's Apprentice at Birdland. What was it about this show that made you want to get involved in it? Thanks Adam! (How could I not immediately fall in love with Call Me Adam? Brilliant on so many levels. Thank you for talking with me).
Stephen Cole asked me about doing Merman's Apprentice and while I am a great proponent of Ethel Merman and her remarkable career, I am not particularly good at imitating her. So I loved the idea of a fable that cast Merman as the biggest star in the world in the eyes of a 12 year old fan. In this story, Merman represents all that is good and real in forging a life in the theatre. The real Ethel Merman matters and informs the shape of the show, but this Ethel is not an impersonation, she is the essence of the Broadway we all think existed in the golden age! My introduction to the piece was "Taking the Veil" the most brilliant take on what it's really like to live a lifetime of 8 shows a week. I didn't need to know anything else. I was hooked.
2. Now Merman's Apprentice is coming back for a return engagement on January 18. What are you looking forward to most about getting back into the life of Ethel Merman? We have the most delightful and talented cast assembled. We had a ball putting the concert together in June and recording the album so it will be a joy to see everyone again and get back into the groove.
3. How are you most like Ethel Merman and what are your differences? I am a natural belter and Ethel Merman was the originator of that sound, so we have that in common. When it comes to differences, she had 13 hits on Broadway. I have yet to be in a Broadway show. So there's that.
Filmed by LMP c (2015/16)
4. In one word, how would you describe Ethel Merman? Lucky.
5. What is it like to portray one of Broadway's biggest names? Did you have any reservations about playing "Ethel Merman"? How do you feel you've put your Klea Blackhurst signature on this role? Well, it's fun to portray Ethel Merman because she was so honest. She didn't really have a filter. She called the way she sang honest. She took a breath, she sang until she used it up and then she took another one. I find that a delightful person to bring to life. She is unreserved. I feel like I just have to identify the emotion of any given moment and then step on the gas. Mad. Sad. Broken. Exasperated. Triumphant. And so on.
I have no reservations playing Ethel Merman. At least not in a project that is respectful and has a good heart. I have put the Klea Blackhurst signature on this role by simply showing up and giving it my all. I believe in what Merman's Apprentice has to say about dreams and show business. And I love to sing. Thanks to David Evans and Stephen Cole, sing I do!
6. How do you think Ethel Merman would react to your portrayal of her if she came to see Merman's Apprentice? I think she'd love it! I hope so anyway. I love her and she is the heroine in a fabulous fable. And I can sing in a way that I believe she would approve of.
7. What role of Ethel Merman's would you want to re-create? Panama Hattie.
8. What advice you would give to Ethel Merman if she were alive today? Learn to tweet. We'd all love to know what you had to say.
9. Since Merman's Apprentice takes place in the Golden Age of Broadway, if you could go back to that time in history, what shows would you want to be in? Kismet and Fanny. I just went with the first two that came to mind.
10. One section of "Call Me Adam" that I am building up is entitled "One Percent Better," where through my own fitness workouts, I'm hoping to inspire people to improve their life everyday by 1%. If you were to improve your life by 1% everyday, what would you change? Consistency in my exercise regime. A belter's got to stay in shape. I'd like to feel like I was always in training.
Klea Blackhurst is an actress, singer and comedienne known for her award-winning tribute to Ethel Merman, Everything The Traffic Will Allow. Klea will be starring in the Chicago premiere of Hazel at Drury Lame Theater in Oakbrook Terrace, IL from March 31 through May 29. Most recently she starred in the highly acclaimed production of Hello, Dolly! at The Goodspeed Opera House and The Nutty Professor, which premiered in Nashville, directed by legendary comedian, Jerry Lewis and featuring a score by Marvin Hamlisch and Rupert Holmes. Klea also played "Rose" in Drury Lane Chicago’s Gypsy, garnishing rave reviews in 2012. She’s performed with symphony orchestras and in theatrical productions across the country and abroad including the London Palladium presentation of Jerry Herman’s Broadway with Angela Lansbury, the recent Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra tribute to Marvin Hamlisch, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, 12 Mabel Mercer Foundation Cabaret Conventions, New York’s Town Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, New York’s 92nd Street Y Lyrics & Lyricists, (Leo Robin & Cole Porter) The Chicago Humanities Festival and as "Ado Annie" in the BBC Proms concert of Oklahoma! in London’s Royal Albert Hall. Klea’s nightclub engagements include tributes to the Broadway career of composer Vernon Duke at the Café Carlyle with a subsequent sold-out engagement at Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater and Dreaming of a Song: The Music of Hoagy Carmichael, a collaboration with Billy Stritch. TV and radio: "Shelby Cross" on the IFC Channel comedy series, Onion News Network, Law and Order: SVU, Sesame Street, and A Prairie Home Companion. Theatre credits include: New York – A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, Bingo, By Jupiter, Radio Gals, Oil City Symphony; Regional – Call Me Madam, Chicago, The Great American Trailer Park Musical, Red Hot and Blue, Anything Goes. Klea’s albums are on the Ghostlight Records label and available at www.ghostlightrecords.com. She’s featured on Jule Styne in Hollywood on PS Classics; the original cast recordings of Bingo and Radio Gals; Lost in Boston IV, Unsung Irving Berlin, and The Best of Off-Broadway. Klea is a Distinguished Alumna of The University of Utah and a member of Trinity Boxing Club NYC.