Cabaret Review: EVERYTHING THE TRAFFIC WILL ALLOW (Klea Blackhurst’s Tribute to Ethel Merman)

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by Paulanne Simmons on March 22, 2024

in Concerts / Events,Theater-New York


When Klea Blackhurst burst onto the stage at Chelsea Table & Stage on March 10 to perform Everything the Traffic Will Allow, one might have well imagined the original Ethel Merman had come to life. Then Blackhurst belted out her first note and it was hard not to be convinced the diva was back. Blackhurst’s award-winning tribute to Ethel Merman is now 23 years old, and it hasn’t tarnished a bit.

Coming from a family of belters, Blackhurst confesses she was 10 years old before she heard a soprano. It was also around that time she began a succession of school papers about Merman, who has remained a singular influence ever since.

Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and George Gershwin all wrote songs for Ethel Merman. Gershwin famously told her to never take a singing lesson. Many of the hit musicals of the 30s (Girl Crazy, Anything Goes) 40s (Panama Hattie, Something for the Boys) and 50s (Call Me Madam, Gypsy) were powered by her oversized voice and personality. (See Stage and Cinema‘s review of Klea Blackhurst in Gypsy in Chicago)

In 1966 she came out of semi-retirement to reprise the role of Annie Oakley in Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun. And in 1970 she took over the lead role in Hello, Dolly! after having turned it down several times. At that time she was about 62 (the date of her birth changed over time).

Not surprisingly, the number of songs Merman introduced or made famous is enormous. Happily, Blackhurst performs many of them, from her opening number, George and Ira Gershwin’s “I’ve Got Rhythm,” to her encore, Irving Berlin’s “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”

Not only was Merman a hard act to follow; she’s a hard act to maintain. Merman was famous for taking a breath and singing until she was out of oxygen. Then, in her own words, she breathed out of “necessity.” In songs like “Blow Gabriel Blow” and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” Blackhurst proved she could do the same.

But Ethel Merman also had a tender side, which Blackhurst explored in the ballad “I Got Lost in His Arms” and the whimsical “Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries” (complete with ukulele). No doubt Merman would consider Blackhurst a worthy heir, someone who can also “hold a note as long as the Chase National Bank.”

If you missed Everything the Traffic Will Allow, Blackhurst will be back at Chelsea Table & Stage April 14 at 7pm with Autumn in New York: Vernon Duke’s Broadway.

Everything the Traffic Will Allow
Klea Blackhurst
Chelsea Table & Stage, 152 West 26 Street
played on Saturday, March 10 at 7 PM

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