La Merman lives on 

Singer Klea Blackhurst has somewhat of an unusual claim to fame: a lifelong relationship with Ethel Merman.

“My mom’s a performer. It was always there,” says Blackhurst, describing the record albums in her home. “Access to Merman’s voice makes you captive. I’d also like to point out that she became famous in 1930 for being heard in the last row of the balcony — without a mike.”

Studying her brassy-voiced idol since she was a child — she even wrote school papers on the topic — Blackhurst shares her expertise and love of the American musical theater great in a one-woman show called “Everything the Traffic Will Allow: The Songs and Sass of Ethel Merman.”

Currently doing the show once a week off-Broadway in New York, where she lives, Blackhurst brings it to San Francisco this week (for the second time; it was here at the Plush Room in 2003) in a 42nd Street Moon presentation at the Eureka Theatre.

She insists that the show, consisting of stories and songs, isn’t of her doing an impersonation, but a valentine to the longtime Broadway star, who died in 1984.

“It’s a challenging show to sing, and fun to do; it’s a great workout,” says Blackhurst. “Trust me, I’ll drop 5 pounds” during the run in The City.

People she meets often want to share Merman lore, and she always enjoys listening to the stories, but she very rarely hears something new. She also has a collection of artifacts at home, including oddities and treasures.

One is a Xerox copy featuring Merman’s distinctive scrawl; it was a request for a drink given to a bartender.

When Blackhurst was in San Francisco, appearing in a successful recent production of “Call Me Madam,” she was given a “real rarity,” a copy of Merman’s first autobiography, released in the U.K., called “Don’t Call Me Madam.”

“I just dropped,” Blackhurst says.

While she’s pleased with her core audience of gay men and older couples, Blackhurst would love to expand it, mentioning that people who don’t know anything about Merman often enjoy the show.

“It doesn’t really matter if you like her or don’t like her,” she says.

“I love it when kids get dragged to it with their grandparents, and a 17-year-old asks me what Ethel Merman album is a good one to start with,” Blackhurst says.


Everything the Traffic Will Allow

Presented by 42nd Street Moon

Where: Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. today-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $44
Contact: (415) 255-8207,

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Leslie Katz

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