I'm so excited to have this new interview with Klea Blackhurst. Not only does she have one of the best voices around, but she is a terrific interview subject, always giving such insightful answers to my questions. This time around, Klea & I discuss the 92Y's Lyrics & Lyricists series, which kicks its season off with Get Happy: Harold Arlen's Early Years.
Before he achieved immortality with "Over the Rainbow," Harold Arlen was the toast of Broadway, Hollywood and the big-band scene — composing blues- and jazz-influenced classics like "Stormy Weather" and "I’ve Got the World on a String." Come swinging through Arlen’s greatest songs So forget your troubles, come on, be happy! Get Happy: Harold Arlen's Early Years will play 92Y (Lexington Avenue at 92nd Street) from Saturday, January 21 at 8pm, Sunday, January 22 at 2pm and 7pm, and Monday, January 23 at 2pm and 7:30pm! Click here for tickets!
1. This January, you, Robert Kimball, Vince Giordano are presenting Get Happy: Harold Arlen's Early Years as part of the 92Y Lyrics & Lyricists concert series. What made you want to open up the season with the music of Harold Arlen? I think it’s a good time to take a minute and remind ourselves to get happy. It’s a new year and lots of changes are in the air, but let’s GET HAPPY! You know, forget your troubles? I can’t do that by myself in my lonely room, but give me a band and I’ve got a chance. It is way above my pay grade to tell you why we are opening the season, but whoever was in charge knew what they were doing.
2. What do you relate to most about Harold's music? I am an imperfect person. But Harold Arlen’s music is sheer perfection. It’s good for me to hang out with him for a while.
3. What do you think 92Y audiences will love most about this show and what do you think will surprise them? Sharing the stage with Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks is irresistible. Anyone in a Nighthawk audience for the first time is going to fall in love, so there’s that. They may be surprised by the range in his writing and maybe a jolt or two when they realize a song they know by heart was written by Arlen.
4. In addition to being one of the co-artistic directors of this Lyrics & Lyricists show, you are also performing in the evening's festivities. What song will you be belting out? Is there a personal story about the song you are singing you can share with us? Robert Kimball is in charge of our script, Vince is in charge of the band and I will be hosting the whole party! I will be singing as well. My favorite song is "Satan’s Li’l Lamb." It has a great story. In 1932 Arlen wrote a song for the Shubert review, Americana. This ended up being remarkable for a number of reasons. Arlen collaborated for the first time with two of his greatest lyricists, men who would play a major part in his life. Yip Harburg and John H. Mercer, who would quickly become known as Johnny. "Satan’s Li’l Lamb" was this giant, pulsating number with lyrics insuring it would probably not become a hit, not because they aren’t wonderful - they are - but because singing the praises of "thrills that’ll break the Ten Commandments with a WHAM!" was almost certainly guaranteed to receive no airplay. I know the song inside out because Ethel Merman ran right out and recorded it on September 29, 1932. Her recording remained the only one for over sixty years!!
5. Joining you in this concert are Stephen DeRosa, Erin Dilly, Catherine Russell, and Nathaniel Stampley (with Vince Giordano and the Nigjhthawks). What are you looking forward to most about having them perform with you? This is an unbelievably talented group of performers and every one of them has a moment to shine. Just being in rehearsal and getting to spend each day in preparation is a joy. The fact that we will actually be on stage with the band and the lights and an audience, is something I am definitely looking forward to...
6. Harold's well known for his song "Get Happy." When you are feeling down, how do you "Get Happy"? I just whistle "Get Happy."
7. Another big song of Harold's was "Stormy Weather." What's one of the biggest storms you've had to face in your life? Honestly, I feel the world right now is going through stormy weather. We need great art and artists more than ever.
8. Harold's biggest song is probably "Over The Rainbow." If you could go "Over The Rainbow," what would you hope to discover there? A Broadway show with me in it!
9. Why did you want to be one of the co-artistic Directors of Get Happy: Harold Arlen's Early Years? What do you get from this venture that you don't get from performing? There is a part of me that is a historian; a preservationist. This is a fantastic opportunity to develop that part of myself. I know I am a gatherer of what was and a specialist in turning it into what IS. None of our history matters if we don’t focus on special things and bring them into the present. We can’t expect the next generation of performers, let alone audiences, to care about what the past can teach us, if it isn’t allowed to see the light of day. When you put a spotlight on Harold Arlen, you see that we are part of a huge human experiment. The world has a right to sing the blues. We need to get happy. We will always experience stormy weather and we should probably take a walk around the block and say to ourselves, you know what: i love to sing-a.
Klea Blackhurst just completed the title role in the world premiere of Hazel at Drury Lane in Chicago. Klea starred in Goodspeed Opera’s 50th anniversary production of Hello, Dolly! and the world premiere of the Marvin Hamlisch/Rupert Holmes musical, The Nutty Professor, directed by Jerry Lewis. Theatre: NY- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Bingo, By Jupiter, Radio Gals, Oil City Symphony; Regional credits include Annie Get Your Gun/Glimmerglass Opera, Call Me Madam/42nd Street Moon,Chicago/Pioneer Theatre Company in her hometown of Salt Lake City and several productions of Anything Goes. TV/radio: Former prosecutor, "Shelby Cross" on Onion News Network, The Knick, Sesame Street, and Prairie Home Companion. Known for her Ethel Merman tribute, Everything The Traffic Will Allow, her other shows are Autumn in New York: Vernon Duke’s Broadway and Dreaming of a Song: The Music of Hoagy Carmichael, in collaboration with Billy Stritch. With Jim Caruso, their annual Christmas show at Birdland is in its seventh year. She’s appeared in legendary halls from The London Palladium to Carnegie Hall, The Royal Albert Hall to Jazz at Lincoln Center and with symphony orchestras from Atlanta to Philly. Klea is a charter member of the Jerry Herman Legacy Concerts and a distinguished Alumna of the University of Utah.