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BWW Review: Klea Blackhurst Lovingly Toasts Jerry Herman in ONE OF THE GIRLS at Birdland

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LKlea Blackhurst is at Birdland October 21-23

BWW Review: Klea Blackhurst Lovingly Toasts Jerry Herman in ONE OF THE GIRLS at Birdland

There's been a rumor around for a couple of years that the simple, hummable show tune was no longer welcome on Broadway.

-Jerry Herman. 1984 Tony Acceptance Speech.

Well to paraphrase Mr. Herman, tonight it was alive and well in Birdland's basement space theatre thanks to renowned actress/singer and cabaret artist Klea Blackhurst. She debuted her new show, ONE OF THE GIRLS: THE WORDS AND MUSIC OF Jerry Herman. It's hard to imagine a better match between composer and singer. Ms. Blackhurst has the larger than life personality combined with the overflowing optimistic heart that is the trademark of all Jerry Herman heroines. And she has the requisite pipes to get through an hour and fifteen minutes of some of his most challenging diva moments.

Blackhurst is no stranger to the world of Jerry Herman. She played Dolly Levi in the 50th-anniversary production of Hello, Dolly! at the Goodspeed Opera House with the enthusiastic endorsement of Herman himself. Her show is a loving tribute, filled with the big hit songs as well as some more enchanting obscure tunes, all tied together with some informative and sometimes dishy stories about the legendary composer of Milk & Honey, Hello, Dolly! Mame, Dear World, Mack & Mabel, The Grand Tour, La Cage aux Folles, and many others.BWW Review: Klea Blackhurst Lovingly Toasts Jerry Herman in ONE OF THE GIRLS at Birdland

There are some performers who never seem to strike a false note. That is Klea Blackhurst. She is frequently compared to Merman, but in truth, her range is broader than Merman's. She is a deft musical comedienne in the vein of Dorothy Loudon, but then she turns around and inhabits a torch song as adroitly as Bernadette Peters. Klea Blackhurst is a one-of-a-kind variety performer who has the gift of connecting her audience in the eyes and managing to seem intimate even as she blows the roof off the place.

She opened with one of Herman's best patter songs, "Just Leave Everything to Me," written for the film Hello, Dolly! which kicked off a suite of Dolly songs including "Put on Your Sunday Clothes" and "It Only Take a Moment." She sang the revised lyrics of "It's Today" which Herman wrote as the title song for "Jerry's Girls," explaining how she herself became one of the girls when she was cast in the high-profile revival of Dolly at Goodspeed. But in actuality, as she told us, she had been one of Jerry's Girls ever since she played Mame at 17 at Cottonwood High School in Salt Lake City. She recreated that teenage performance for us in "Open a New Window."

BWW Review: Klea Blackhurst Lovingly Toasts Jerry Herman in ONE OF THE GIRLS at Birdland

She turned from her story to Jerry's story, explaining how his parents took him at age 13 to see Ethel Merman in Annie Get Your Gun. His exposure to Irving Berlin at this impressionable age planted the seeds of a Broadway career in his mind. Berlin was his model. She demonstrated this by singing one of Berlin's most enduring songs, "What'll I Do?" joined with Herman's "Time Heals Everything" from Mack & Mabel. The stylistic similarities are undeniable.

Herman's disappointing experience in Hollywood with Dolly and Mame, Blackhurst told us, sent him back to write a rose-tinted version of Lala Land in A Day in Hollywood, A Night in the Ukraine. She sang his spirited opening number "Just Go to the Movies." She gave us one of Dear World's most beautiful ballads in "I Don't Want to Know." She entertained us with the story of how Ethel Merman finally played the part that Herman had written for her in Hello, Dolly! at the end of its Broadway run. She found out there were songs he had written for her that never went in the show. She promptly added them. She sang the best one, "World, Take Me Back."BWW Review: Klea Blackhurst Lovingly Toasts Jerry Herman in ONE OF THE GIRLS at Birdland

She gave us a very early song from the 1958 revue Nitecap, that Jerry Herman wanted her to sing personally. The song, "My Type" is a very funny number about patiently waiting your turn for success. She combined two beautiful ballads, "I'll Be Here Tomorrow" and "Each Tomorrow Morning," before ending her concert with one of Herman's biggest hits, "I Am What I Am." Her performance was off the chart.

Klea Blackhurst was supported by the awesome musicians of the "Pocket Change Trio." Musical director, Michael Rice, bassist, Ray Kilday, and drummer, Aaron Russell did amazing work with these infectious show tunes. Director Mark Waldrop gave the show a very tight structure and kept things moving along briskly. They were all displayed to best advantage in the show's encore, a medley of "Dear World" and "It's Today." The show did the late Jerry Herman proud. Klea Blackhurst made these now quite familiar songs feel fresh and alive and as exciting as the day they were written. Jerry Herman always believed that the best of times is now. Listening to Klea Blackhurst, that couldn't be more true.

BWW Review: Klea Blackhurst Lovingly Toasts Jerry Herman in ONE OF THE GIRLS at Birdland

ONE OF THE GIRLS: THE WORDS AND MUSIC OF Jerry Herman continues at Birdland through October 23. For tickets and information, visit birdlandjazz.com. To learn more about Klea Blackhurst, go to kleablackhurst.com or follow her @klea_blackhurst on Instagram or @KleaBlackhurst on Twitter. Klea Blackhurst's music is available on Ghostlight Records and on all streaming platforms.


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