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‘Radio Gals’ veteran playing new role in S.L. production

Utah native is directing show — and her mom

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From left, Amy May, Winkie Tedesco Horman and Nola Campbell in Grand Theatre production "Radio Gals."

From left, Amy May, Winkie Tedesco Horman and Nola Campbell in Grand Theatre production “Radio Gals.”

Steve Fidel, Deseret Morning News

Utah native Klea Blackhurst, whose cabaret show "Everything the Traffic Will Allow" has been crisscrossing the country, is taking a break to guest-direct the Grand Theatre's season-opener, "Radio Gals," debuting this week at Salt Lake Community College's South City campus.

(Actually, Blackhurst has been in San Francisco since Tuesday, performing her show, an Ethel Merman tribute, in the Plush Room cabaret, where her six-night run closes today.)

Blackhurst, who literally grew up in Salt Lake City's theaters — Pioneer Memorial Theatre, Kingsbury Hall, Promised Valley Playhouse and the old Valley Music Hall, has a vested interest in "Radio Gals."

She's performed in more than a dozen different editions, including the West Coast premiere in 1995 and a Cape Playhouse version that featured Dody Goodman.

"But this is fun for me to come here and be on the other side of the table," Blackhurst said during a recent interview at the Deseret Morning News.

It's also given her a rare opportunity to direct her mother, well-known local actress Winkie Tedesco Horman. But Mom didn't get the role because of nepotism.

"She (kind of) had to audition like everyone else," Blackhurst said.

It's taken Blackhurst a couple of years to put this project on the calendar.

"I saw 'You Can't Take It With You' at the Grand and I was really impressed. The theater is beautiful, and I thought Winkie was wonderful. I thought that 'Radio Gals' would be a good fit for this theater. I pitched the idea to Richard Scott (the Grand's artistic director), and we were finally able to squeeze it into my schedule," she said.

What's exciting for Blackhurst, after appearing in so many productions of "Radio Gals," is to see "others bringing their own take to the material."

The show was the brainchild of Mike Craver and the late Mark Hardwick, who also wrote "Oil City Symphony." (Hardwick was also part of the team that wrote and developed another popular show, "Pump Boys and Dinettes.")

Blackhurst first hooked up with Mike and Mark in 1988, when she replaced Debra Monk as the drummer in "Oil City Symphony."

She was called on again to play drummer Rennabelle in "Radio Gals" during that show's formative period.

Because she was part of "Radio Gals" from the beginning, the show holds a special place in her heart.

"And I'm having a blast," she said, talking about her Salt Lake cast.

"I'm not trying to re-create anything. Some of the actors are in the (on-stage) band. It's not just a matter of learning the choreography and the lyrics, but even some new instruments," she said.

Blackhurst's cast — in addition to her Mom — includes Rebecca Hample, Amy May, Nola Campbell, Barbara TerraNova, Kevin Mathie, Tom Drury and Rob Ljunberg.

The show revolves around Horman's character, Hazel Hunt, an enterprising woman who lives in Cedar Ridge, Ark. When she retires as the town's music teacher in the late 1920s, she receives a Western Electric 500-watt radio transmitter and

begins broadcasting music by her own band — the Hazelnuts — from her home. But, due to "channel wandering," her not-so-local broadcasts attract listeners from as far away as Manhattan and Montreal — which brings a federal radio inspector to the scene.

After "Radio Gals" opens, Blackhurst will be heading to the Shubert Theatre in New Haven, Conn., where she'll play Reno Sweeney in "Anything Goes." It's a production that just closed at the Cape Playhouse on Cape Cod ("I had Gertrude Lawrence's old dressing room") and the Shubert is picking up the whole production intact.

Meanwhile, her Ethel Merman tribute is still a work in progress.

"We're trying to get it out of the (cabaret) rooms and into theaters."

When she's not on the road, directing and performing, Blackhurst lives in the South Street Seaport district of Manhattan.

If you go …

What: "Radio Gals"

Where: Grand Theatre, 1575 S. State

When: Friday-Sept. 27, 7:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7:30 p.m.

How much: $5-$18.50

Phone: 957-3322

Web site:www.the-grand.org

E-mail: ivan@desnews.com