There's just something about KLea Blackhurst: The very first moment you meet her you know you're gonna like her and that, given the chance to perform for you, she's sure to wow you, to put you in your place, to make you fall in love with her. Consider yourself forewarned.
Blackhurst is in Nashville with the rest of the company of actors, dancers, musicians, techies, stagehands and the army of other theater artists necessary to bring The Nutty Professor Musical to life on the stage of the James K. Polk Theatre at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center. Playing the role of Miss Lemon, the devoted –and lovestruck-secretary to the dean of the college where one Professor Julius Kelp toils diligently in his chemistry lab, it's a role tailor-made for Blackhurst, who is a bold, brassy, ballsy kind of dame that audiences love and musical theater has venerated since the first time a character fitting that description strode upon the stage.
For Blackhurst, The Nutty Professor represents a lifelong dream coming true in real time: "My dream has always been to be in a big Broadway musical," she confides. "And now it may be coming true."
It's a dream she's nurtured since she was a little girl. At the age of 10, KLea Blackhurst-a precociously talented youngster in Salt Lake City-knew she wanted to be on the stage, to entertain audiences and to become larger-than-life characters.
Besides the acclaim that could very well accompany her star-making turn in The Nutty Professor, she's probably best known for Everything the Traffic Will Allow, her tuneful tribute to Ethel Merman (another of the theater's venerated bold, brassy and ballsy broads) that has earned her countless accolades, including the inaugural Special Achievement Award presented by Time Out New York magazine (Talkin' Broadway.com named the recording of her show "one of the top ten show albums of 2002"). Since then, her peripatetic career has taken her all over the world, celebrating pop music and show tunes-the standards that audiences clamor for-winning laudatory reviews and legion of fans. Hers is certainly a star on the rise.
Blackhurst's resume boasts a wide range of roles, including Mama Morton in Pioneer Theatre Company's production of Chicago; the dual roles of Bernice/Marilyn in the off-Broadway production of Bingo; Nails O'Reilly Duquesne in Red, Hot and Blue at San Francisco's 42nd Street Moon; Sally Adams in Call Me Madam, also at 42nd Street Moon; Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes at the Shubert Theatre in New Haven; Debbie in the original off-Broadway production of Oil City Symphony; Rennabelle in Radio Gals Off Broadway at the John Houseman Theatre; and the role of Hippolyta in By Jupiter in the York Theatre's Musicals in Mufti series.
Her current role, which she describes as "perfect," can be traced back some five years or so ago to a telephone call from Jerry Lewis himself.
"I got a telephone call from Jerry Lewis, inviting me to a meeting with him in Las Vegas about an upcoming project," Blackhurst explains. "So I went to Vegas and we talked about The Nutty Professor Musical and he told me he wanted me to play Miss Lemon."
At the time, The Nutty Professor Musical was but a dream in the overly active brains of Lewis and leading man Michael Andrew, who had approached his idol with the idea a few years before, and executive producer Ned McLeod. But as that idea germinated among those creative thinkers, Lewis began reaching out, to build the team that would best serve the project-and the people who would be best served by the musical itself-relying on handshake deals to bring the team together.