Klea Blackhurst: One of the Girls: The Words and Music of Jerry Herman

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Klea Blackhurst

One of the Girls: The Words and Music of Jerry Herman

Chelsea Table + Stage, NYC, May 5, 2024

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg

Klea Blackhurst

To begin her tribute to Jerry Herman at Chelsea Table + Stage, Klea Blackhurst descended the club’s grand staircase to her sold-out room of fans. Given how many staircases appear in the Herman’s works, this was totally appropriate and totally theatrical. Without any doubt, the lady was in total charge; she advised us in her opening number to “Just Leave Everything to Me,” and the audience happily complied. If she occasionally got lost in her patter because she had rushed to the show from final rehearsals for her new musical at Goodspeed Opera House, A Complicated Woman, it just added to the good-natured fun of the evening. And great fun it was; Blackhurst and Herman were a perfect combination, given their energy and optimism. When the invitation to “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” was issued, we were eager to go along. This number had a terrific arrangement by music director/pianist Michael Brice, and it included an electric work-out for drummer Aaron Russell. (Bassist Tom Hubbard ws the third member of the trio.) Blackhurst’s story about the creation of the song was just as carefully structured as it led to her performance of it. In total contrast, she filled “It Only Takes a Moment” with tender emotion and true romance. A lovely moment came when she declared that Herman was a direct descendant of Irving Berlin given his simplicity and sincerity. She confirmed that view with a lovely medley of Berlin’s “What’ll I Do” and Herman’s “Time Heals Everything” that produced a truly emotional moment.

Blackhurst transformed the bombastic “Just Go to the Movies” into a true showstopper, as she did with the very different “I Don’t Want to Know,” a blistering tour de force. Of course, no show by Blackhurst would be complete without a reference to the grand Ethel Merman. Here it occurred in “World, Take Me Back,” one of the two numbers added to the score of Hello, Dolly! when Merman took over the lead role; it was certainly a worthy tribute. Blackhurst went even further into obscure Herman territory with the unpublished number “My Type” that Herman had personally given to her. It was a grand comedy number that she fully mined for laughter.

“I’ll Be Here Tomorrow” was smartly blended with “Each Tomorrow Morning” for another positive moment, a celebration of possibilities. “I Am What I Am” was transformed into a highly personalized statement; the arrangement was interwoven with other Herman songs into the main declaration to display the soul of both the singer and the songwriter. A joyous “Dear World” (not Herman’s favorite) and a celebratory “It’s Today” brought the crowd-pleasing show to a close. Blackhurst will be back at the venue in the fall to continue her Box Set residency; that’s something to look forward to.

Bart Greenberg

Bart Greenberg first discovered cabaret a few weeks after arriving in New York City by seeing Julie Wilson and William Roy performing Stephen Sondheim and Cole Porter outdoors at Rockefeller Center. It was instant love for both Ms. Wilson and the art form. Some years later, he was given the opportunity to create his own series of cabaret shows while working at Tower Records. "Any Wednesday" was born, a weekly half-hour performance by a singer promoting a new CD release. Ann Hampton Callaway launched the series. When Tower shut down, Bart was lucky to move the program across the street to Barnes & Noble, where it thrived under the generous support of the company. The series received both The MAC Board of Directors Award and The Bistro Award. Some of the performers who took part in "Any Wednesday" include Barbara Fasano and Eric Comstock, Tony Desare, Andrea Marcovicci, Carole Bufford, the Karens, Akers, Mason and Oberlin, and Julie Wilson. Privately, Greenberg is happily married to writer/photographer Mark Wallis, who as a performance artist in his native England gathered a major following as "I Am Cereal Killer."