ETHEL MERMAN SONGS AND SASS SIZZLE IN WESTPORT

 

BONNNIE GOLDBERG

Singer and actress Klea Blackhurst grew up drinking bottled milk and Broadway tunes.  With her actress mother leading the way, Klea often took naps on theater seats while her mama rehearsed, everything from “Madame Butterfly” to “Bells Are Ringing.”  Her babysitting money went to purchasing records and show tune albums which she promptly memorized.

Her early stage experience, at age ten in “The King and I,” was strongly influenced by her mother and a show business legend and icon:  Ethel Merman.  Blackhurst admits that Ms. Merman, with her brassy boom box voice and musical theater history, has been her primary inspiration and the possible topic of at least 90% of her English class compositions.

When Klea decided in 2001 to fashion her own unique vehicle for the stage, one that would showcase her own singing and acting talents, framing a show around Miss Merman was a natural.

“Everything the Traffic Will Allow:  The Songs and Sass of Ethel Merman” will open the new season of  Music Theatre of Connecticut weekends until Sunday, October 24.  The vivacious and enthusiastic Miss Blackhurst will bring her encyclopedia of knowledge to the stage and transform “The Undisputed First Lady of the musical comedy stage” into Technicolor life.

Songs from all her Broadway hits by the legendary Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Irving Berlin and Jerry Herman are sprinkled delightfully like sugar crystals as well as anecdotes about her  interesting life.  Ethel Agnes Zimmerman shortened her last name so it would fit on a theater marquee.  The last of her four marriages lasted a month and a day to actor Ernest Borgnine.  The mix of tunes and tales is magical.

Klea Blackhurst sings with gusto, hits like “I Got Rhythm,” “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” “Doin’ What Comes Naturally,” “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” culminating with Merman’s theme song “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” all with the able assistance of Bruce Barnes on piano.

For tickets ($25-45, $5 off for seniors and students if available), call MTC, 246 Post Road East, Colonial Green, lower level, Westport at 203-454-3883 or online at www.musictheatreofct.com.  Performances are Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m.

Watch Klea Blackhurst hang a new star on Ethel Merman’s dressing room door as she pays tribute to one of the most fascinating figures in musical theater of the twentieth century.

 


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