Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Klea Blackhurst's San Francisco autumn


She stars in 'Red, Hot and Blue' for 42nd St. Moon

Klea Blackhurst in concert.
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It seemed more like autumn in New York than summer in San Francisco on the morning I met with Klea Blackhurst. Actually, the weather was appropriate, as Blackhurst has just released a new CD, Autumn in New York: Vernon Duke's Broadway, songs from her latest one-woman show, which recently played two sold-out evenings at Joe's Pub in Manhattan. Best-known for her tribute to Ethel Merman Everything the Traffic Will Allow, the effervescent Blackhurst was as surprised as anyone that her next project would include so many ballads.

The vivacious redhead, a self-proclaimed "boom-chuck" girl, explains that she's more comfortable with up-tempo numbers, but listeners of the new album would never know this by hearing how respectfully she caresses these carefully chosen Duke standards and rarities. In the course of her research, Blackhurst discovered that Merman was briefly slated to star in Duke's musical Sadie Thompson, beating out Marlene Dietrich and Ginger Rogers for the role. She found it amusing that Merman, who appeared in an unprecedented string of hits, was briefly connected with Duke, who had nothing but flops. "April in Paris," "Autumn in New York," and "I Can't Get Started" are all familiar standards, but few people know that they all came from unsuccessful Broadway shows. Most reviews of Duke's 1932 show Walk a Little Faster didn't even mention "April in Paris."

Blackhurst is equally excited to be able to reintroduce some of Duke's forgotten gems. Many of these were suggested by Bob Grimes, the San Francisco sheet music collector, a nationally renowned expert on music from the first half of the 20th-century. While developing her show, she spent time with Grimes, marveling as he pulled title after title of sheet music from the archives filling his downtown apartment. She dedicates the album to Grimes, saying, "without the enthusiastic sharing of his knowledge, there would simply be no album."

Blackhurst considers herself "a musical-theatre historian who brings things to life by performing them." I could have listened all morning to her fascinating anecdotes about Duke, whose Broadway career was dogged by bad luck, rotten timing, and ailing or difficult stars. But she reminded me that we haven't talked at all about the reason she's in San Francisco. She's just started rehearsal for 42nd Street Moon's production of Cole Porter's Red, Hot and Blue , which opens September 22. Despite a score that boasts such standards as "Down in the Depths," "Ridin' High" and "It's De-lovely," the sho

Klea Blackhurst
w has rarely been revived.

"I think the book is very funny," Blackhurst said. "But it's obvious the lines were written specifically for the original stars. I can just hear Merman, Jimmy Durante and Bob Hope's voices when I read the script." She has done several benefits for 42nd Street Moon, and is excited to be working on Red, Hot and Blue . "I'm pleased they asked me to do it. I mean, I think I'm the obvious choice for this role, and I applaud them for thinking so, too."

Pet sounds

Her love of performing may be genetic. Growing up in Salt Lake City, she obsessively memorized lyrics from original-cast albums. She was influenced, no doubt, by her mom, Winkie Tedesco Horman, who performed with the USO and in summer stock. Winkie once appeared with musical veteran Betty Garrett in a production of Bells Are Ringing . When Blackhurst read in Garrett's autobiography that her pet parakeet's name was Winkie, she wondered whether it was only a coincidence.

Having performed roles in Oil City-Symphony, Radio Girls and Buffalo Gals, Blackhurst recently made her Carnegie Hall debut with Michael Feinstein's Everything's Coming Up Roses: Celebrating the Songs of Jule Styne. But at a recent family gathering, she found her appearance in a Kellogg's Mini-Wheats commercial most impressed her relatives. Blackhurst listed her criteria for accepting work as prestige, personal satisfaction, and money. "The project has to include two out of the three." She hesitated for effect. "Or at least one." The commercial she did for the money (although she does, in fact, eat Mini-Wheats). She's doing Red, Hot and Blue for the P's.

Red, Hot and Blue will play at the Eureka Theatre Sept. 22 through Oct. 16. For one performance only, on Tuesday, Oct. 11, Blackhurst will present Autumn in New York: Vernon Duke's Broadway as a benefit for 42nd Street Moon. The $75 admission includes mai tais and Polynesian appetizers from Trader Vic's, as well as a generous sampling of Blackhurst's Vernon Duke stories and songs. For tickets, call (415) 255-8205. Winkie and Bob Grimes will be in the audience cheering her on.

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