Out in Oakbrook, there is a debut of a seasoned maid with lots of moxie. Normally that prosperous neighborhood’s domestic additions wouldn’t make headlines, except this chipper cleaner is headlining a world premiere new musical titled Hazel: A Musical Maid in America. Originally designed as a Saturday Evening Post comic from the 1940’s, then reworked as an Emmy Award-winning TV sitcom in the 1960’s, Hazel is now determined to make the Great White Way her next stomping grounds. Directed and choreographed by Emmy Award-winner (Smash) Joshua Bergasse, this enthusiastic and energetic piece has a huge asset in its star. Klea Blackhurst is, simply put, a gem. Her Hazel Burke is a chatty, engaging, winning, and thoroughly likeable everywoman. She is this overcrowded show’s greatest asset. Larger than life, compelling, and totally relatable, Blackhurst’s delivery is similar in style to original Broadway belter, Ethel Merman, and I mean that as the most sincerest of compliments. She bulldozes every scene she is in, including beginning the production at the back of the house, chatting with eager (and surprised) audience members as she makes her descent to the stage, offering Kleenex’s, breath mints and compliments on her way to center stage. The book by Lissa Levin has many clever, sitcom style one-liners, although it needs serious refinement before heading to NYC. The music by Ron Abel and lyrics from Chuck Steffan enhanced the many eye popping production numbers, however a few days later, none of the songs stuck in my head. A problem for a new musical with lofty Broadway aspirations.
There are three separate, prevailing story lines peppering the narrative of Hazel. The first, a 60’s style battle of the sexes between married couple George (Ken Clark) and Dorothy Baxter (Summer Naomi Smart) both vexed in disagreement as Mrs. Baxter is joining the working world, outside of the home. This storyline is germane, else there would be no reason to look for a live-in, armed with both a quick wit and a feather duster. This down to earth Mary Poppins is mistaken for an alien in the second story line, as the Baxter boy, Harold (Casey Lyons) and his team of curious friends young friends including Scotty Ferber (Tyler Martin) and Benedetta Bomicino (Ava Morse) believe they have filmed an official UFO landing with Hazel as the extraterrestrials’ leader. There is also a secret government organization, the Project Blue Book Air Force Agency, who is also looking into the mysterious UFO’s appearance. With the exception of buxom beauty Meghan Murphy’s no-nonsense military administrator flirting with another of Harold’s young friends, Rueben Stueben (Rowan Moxley) who has a not so secret boyhood crush on this randy redhead, a reoccurring theme played just for laughs throughout the show, the military scenes are mostly filler. My prediction is they are inserted to give Blackhurst a well earned momentary rest between scenes. The final subplot centers around a marriage proposal from zany TV pitchmen and eccentric millionaire, Bonkers Johnson (Ed Kross) and Hazel. While Bonkers is surrounded by a trio of bendy singing beauties, he only had eyes for Hazel. She is then torn between marriage and work. Why in the world can she not have both? Must be a 60’s thing, as today’s women can have it all if contemporary shampoo and hair coloring ads are to be believed. The three storylines come to a head the fateful evening Mr. B. needs to entertain his big-bucks client at a high stakes dinner. Hazel must pull out all the stops to simultaneously impress this potential client and prove herself indispensable to the Baxter family. Secondary, she also needs to substantiate she is not actually an alien sent to conquer Earth to a skeptical young Mr. Banks.
This hardworking cast does show off some grand moves in the larger production numbers. Summer Naomi Smart’s Dorothy gets to fly across the stage in the strong arms of a bevy of chorus boys in the utterly delightful “Sheer Perfection,” an office place song and dance dream sequence. Young Casey Lyons may play a quirky, space helmet wearing, peculiar clad, at odds with his conventional for the times father, but his lovely act two solo, “Space” would melt even the most rudimentary of hearts, especially that of Mr. B. However, the show is called Hazel, and no one shines brighter than this go-getting dynamo. From the opening number “Ya Gonna Need Help” to the brightly colored, Crayola crayons box inspired, mid-show “Market Mania & C’Mon ‘N Mambo,” she is a leading lady both lively and engaging. Also lively, Kevin Depinet’s electric 1960’s inspired set, Lee Fiskness’ out-of-this-world lighting, Sully Ratke’s “far out” costuming, and Christopher Ash’s “groovy” projection design. This time warp brought many a superficial smile to audience member’s nostalgic faces. The surface charm of Hazel: A Musical Maid in America is abundant.
Set in the turbulent 1960’s decade of change, Hazel may be the blue collar savior of the up-and-coming Baxter family, but it is actress Klea Blackhurst who is the real saving grace of this new musical. Her lively live-in maid is at the epicenter of what works best in this showcase. Fervent choreography also abounds and delights. Now the creative team needs to direct their laser pointer on fixing the script holes and song gaps so Hazel: A Musical Maid in America can polish up quite nicely. It is commendable a theater housed out in the suburbs like the Drury Lane Theatre, continues to add world premiere shows to their annual line-up of proven successful musical mountings. Hazel may not yet be up to the established success of other Drury show’s like West Side Story or Bye Bye Birdie, but this is an auspicious debut. To speak in 1960’s vernacular, this may not be a perfect “love in” yet, but it has genuine potential.
Hazel: A Musical Maid in America is now playing at the Drury Lane Theatre through May 29, 2016