September 23, 2020

Alumni Spotlight: Klea Blackhurst

Using the hashtag #TheEthelMermanPlaybillProject Klea Blackhurst (BFA '85) is using her time in quarantine and her Facebook page to share her wealth of knowledge about the legendary musical theater actress, Ethel Merman, with her social media followers. Ms. Blackhurst, a performer with a more than passing association with Ethel Merman, has amassed an enviable collection of Mer-morabilia, particularly a set of Playbill programs that span Merman's entire career. While cleaning house, Blackhurst had the idea, developed the concept, found an appropriate background in her home, and began filming installments of her new web series, with Andrea Prestinario acting as producer and Blackhurst, herself, assuming the role of editor.


"I have an idea! While cleaning up a little flood in the basement, I realized you have to open the boxes and give the contents some love or let them go. And so I am presenting The Ethel Merman #Playbill Project. Look out for a daily video where I'll present a Merman show a day. Over the next two weeks, we'll span all 40 years of Merman's Broadway career through the lens of her Playbill bios."



KLEA BLACKHURST is an actress, singer and comedienne known for her award-winning tribute to Ethel Merman, Everything The Traffic Will Allow. Most recently she appeared Off-Broadway with Hayley Mills in the comedy, Party Face, at City Center Stage 2. She starred in Hazel during its world premiere production at Drury Lane in Chicago, as Dolly Levi in the highly acclaimed Fiftieth Anniversary production of Hello, Dolly! at The Goodspeed Opera House and as Miss Lemon in The Nutty Professor, which premiered in Nashville, directed by legendary comedian Jerry Lewis, and featuring a score by Marvin Hamlisch and Rupert Holmes. Klea also played Rose in Drury Lane Chicago’s production of Gypsy, garnering rave reviews in 2012. 

She’s performed with symphony orchestras and in theatrical productions across the country and abroad including the London Palladium presentation of Jerry Herman’s Broadway with Angela Lansbury, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra tribute to Marvin Hamlisch,, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, 15 Mabel Mercer Foundation Cabaret Conventions, New York’s Town Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, New York’s 92nd Street Y Lyrics & Lyricists, The Chicago Humanities Festival and as Ado Annie in the BBC Proms concert of Oklahoma! in London’s Royal Albert Hall. In addition to regular appearances at New York’s famed Birdland, Klea’s nightclub engagements include tributes to the Broadway career of composer Vernon Duke at the Café Carlyle with a subsequent sold-out engagement at Joe's Pub at The Public Theater and “Dreaming of a Song: The Music of Hoagy Carmichael,” a collaboration with Billy Stritch.

On television she has appeared in Ryan Murphy’s Pose and The Knick, on Showtime. She spent two seasons as former prosecutor, Shelby Cross, on the IFC Channel comedy series, Onion News Network. She’s done the requisite Law and Order: SVU, spent a week on Sesame Street and was a musical guest on The Rosie O’Donnell Show.

Theatre credits include: in New York – A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, Bingo, By Jupiter, Radio Gals, Oil City Symphony; Regionally – Ragtime, Call Me Madam, Chicago, The Great American Trailer Park Musical, Red Hot and Blue and Anything Goes

Klea’s albums are on the Ghostlight Records label and available at  and . She’s featured on “Jule Styne in Hollywood” on PS Classics; the original cast recordings of Bingo and Radio Gals; “Lost in Boston IV,” “Unsung Irving Berlin,” and “The Best of Off Broadway.” Klea is a Distinguished Alumna of The University of Utah and created Klea Blackhurst’s Old School, a 4 week master class, a practical application of the American Musical Theatre. Participants learn theatre history, anatomy, acoustics, physiology and the joy of standing up and singing out!


Blog introduction by Robert Scott Smith

Bio credit: Klea Blackhurst, from