Klea Blackhurst, Jim Caruso, Billy Stritch: A Swingin’ Birdland Christmas

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Klea Blackhurst, Jim Caruso & Billy Stritch

A Swingin’ Birdland Christmas

Birdland, NYC, December 23, 2016

Jim Caruso, Billy Stritch, Klea Blackhurst
Jim Caruso, Billy Stritch,
Klea Blackhurst

For the seventh season, Birdland started the countdown to Christmas with Klea Blackhurst, Jim Caruso and Billy Stritch’s A Swingin’ Birdland Christmas, a madcap mix of hip and sentiment, laughs, rhythm and swing. This musicfest has grown into a yearly sell-out and ignites the spirit with a holiday camaraderie like those we seem to fondly remember. Miss this show and it’s like missing out on Santa and mistletoe.

While they always add a cool twist of today, the trio lets us know they miss the traditions of yesterday, drawing in the audience with fond memories of watching those old-fashioned, somewhat corny but undeniably cheery,  ’60s and ’70s variety shows. “It always goes back to the Osmonds,”  say pianist/vocalist Billy Stritch, suave in scarlet jacket, singer/funnyman Jim Caruso in plaid and that gal with the belting pipes, Klea Blackhurst, shimmering in black. They groove on the connection of family and friends that was always the focus of the Osmond specials, as well as in Sonny and Cher’s Christmas special, Bing Crosby’s get-togethers and The Andy Williams Show with the Williams Brothers’ jazz-based harmonies. Keeping the beat and rhythm were Daniel Glass on drums and Steve Doyle on bass.

Underscoring this show is the madcap genius of the late Kay Thompson, a multi-talented producer/creator/songwriter/performer for MGM who influenced some of the great entertainers, including Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra and Liza Minnelli.

After the show’s opener a number recorded by by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, “Christmas Is Starting Now” (Dan Povenmire/Danny Jacob/Martin Olson), the trio continued with Thompson’s “It’s the Holiday Season.” Thompson had penned a killer arrangement of “Jingle Bells,” a regular now in the Birdland special mashup, spiked with influences of other arrangements. Since Christmas time is shopping time, Caruso, Stritch and Blackhurst, also offered a dynamic “Discount Boogie,” a vocalese treatment to the Barry Manilow theme song from American Bandstand. They gave a bid to traditional holiday films, celebrating with “Snow” (White Christmas) and “It Happened in Sun Valley” (Sun Valley Serenade).

The trio included some of the best of those memories, and also some of the most hilarious, such as Caruso’s spot-on revisit to a uniquely-Cher, “O Holy Night”  and gyrating to Elvis’ “Blue Christmas” (Billy Hayes/Jay W. Johnson). Blackhurst gave us a taste of the trumpet with an instrumental recorded by trumpeter Herb Albert and The Tijuana Brass, “The Lonely Bull” (Sol Lake) and “Feliz Navidad” (Jose Feliciano) and picked up the ukulele for “Mele Kalikimaka” (“The Hawaiian Christmas Song”) by Robert Alex Anderson and made famous by Bing Crosby. 

Billy Stritch, an outstanding pianist with soft plush vocals, brought in a mellow mood with “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” (Frank Loesser) and Mel Tormé and Robert Wells’ “The Christmas Song.” He recently found an little-known Cy Coleman/Floyd Huddleston song, “He’s Stuck in the Chimney Again,” and performed Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne’s jazz-flavored “Christmas Waltz.


A recording of Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas” was a perfect encore, summing up the memories, traditions and goodwill that this Swingin’ Birdland Christmas was all about.

Elizabeth Ahlfors

Born and raised in New York, Elizabeth graduated from NYU with a degree in Journalism. She has lived in various cities and countries and now is back in NYC. She has written magazine articles and published three books: A Housewife’s Guide to Women’s Liberation, Twelve American Women, and Heroines of ’76 (for children). A great love was always music and theater—in the audience, not performing. A Philadelphia correspondent for Theatre.com and InTheatre Magazine, she has reviewed theater and cabaret for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia City News. She writes for Cabaret Scenes and other cabaret/theater sites. She is a judge for Nightlife Awards and a voting member of Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle.