BWW Review: KLEA BLACKHURST: ONE OF THE GIRLS at Birdland
A happy and lucky throng of people filled the main room at Birdland on August 26th to see the jazz club's esteemed favorite, Klea Blackhurst, debut her new solo show, "One of the Girls". The in-demand Blackhurst hasn't been on the Birdland stage in a while, a fact noted by Jim Caruso during his introduction, because the actress is often away performing in plays like Gypsy, Chicago and Hello, Dolly! - a play which makes this evening of singing a perfect match for her because she has, long, been one of "Jerry's Girls" -- Jerry Herman, that is. Though she has never done the Herman-tribute musical revue Jerry's Girls, Blackhurst has had a long association with the Tony-award winner, who has declared that he is one of her biggest fans.
Ms. Blackhurst was all casual chic in a beaded above-the-knee skirt and blouse, classic black and white, including towering high heels, as she addressed an audience that included Karen Akers, Natalie Douglas, Jeff Harnar, Richard Hillman, Steve Ross, and KT Sullivan, sharing delightful and seldom-heard stories about Mr. Herman's legendary career. Amusing all with tales about the creation of the musicals Hello, Dolly!, Mame and La Cage Aux Folles, as well as the stars who inhabited the great female roles Herman created, Ms. Blackhurst treated the audience to her own inimitable style of singing songs everyone knows and loves. With impeccable diction and enunciation, Klea Blackhurst offered up versions of "Put On Your Sunday Clothes" and "It Only Takes a Moment" worthy of the reputation she has for being a jazz singer of the caliber of Nancy Wilson or Ann Hampton Callaway - her phrasing is worldly and labyrinthine, completely thrilling and enjoyable. Then she took on ballads like "I Don't Want to Know" and "Time Heals Everything" with all of the passion and emotion for which she has come to be respected, as a musical storyteller. She was in fine voice and entirely accessible to her audience, all of whom shared a palpable connection with the spry and bubbly diva.
The Mark Waldrop helmed show "One of the Girls" is well researched and written, and the stories about Herman and the original productions are all enjoyable, but the moments that were actually most enjoyable were when Blackhurst shared her life with the audience. Usually it would be boring to hear someone talk about their High School production of Mame, but when Klea Blackhurst talks about doing a sophisticated madcap musical comedy without knowing what a hangover feels like, mispronouncing "Flaubert", or a cast of thousands dressed in breeches and tube socks, it becomes a laugh riot worthy of Mrs. Burnside herself. The big-voiced Blackhurst had the adoring crowd eating out of the palm of her hand, so much so that they didn't care when she forgot lines to her songs and told them "Soo many words", drawing an uproar of laughter.
The evening, magnificently musical directed by Michael Rice (who really has Blackhurst's back) and backed up by The Pocket Change Trio, featured only one song from the musicals Mack and Mabel, The Grand Tour, A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine, and La Cage Aux Folles, as well as two from the cult favorite Dear World, preferring to focus on Mame and, especially, Hello, Dolly! (five songs masterfully delivered to the crowds' happy ears). Particularly fun was the title song to Jerry's Girls, in which Blackhurst gave a history of what role was played by each woman mentioned in the song, but the real meat of the evening came in her virtuoso delivery of the La Cage anthem "I Am What I Am" - maybe because Klea deserves to sing an anthem about who and what she is, because who and what Klea Blackhurst is, is a damn fine performer with a legion of fans who love her, and that is everything that was on display last night at Birdland.