With the brand-new musical, Drury Lane Theatre sings the praises of one lovable maid
More often than not, musicals don’t spring to life from a blank slate. “West Side Story” riffed on “Romeo and Juliet,” “The Color Purple” was an adaptation of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and “Billy Elliot” was sourced from the film of the same name. Now, Drury Lane Theatre — making its mark as a showcase for new work — presents “Hazel,” based on the classic Ted Key newspaper cartoon and the ’60s TV show that starred Shirley Booth as the straight-talking maid who kept a young family in line.
Written by TV veteran Lissa Levin (“Cheers,” “Family Ties”), with music by Ron Abel and lyrics from Chuck Steffan, “Hazel” is set in the 1960s, a era that offers lots to work with, suggests director Joshua Bergasse. “It was a time of great change in the country, great design, great music and great dance styles. We’ve really been drawing upon the period for inspiration for the show.” And while dipping so far back in pop culture might seem a stretch for audiences whose idea of a “classic” musical could well be “Wicked,” Bergasse says the show rides on more than nostalgia. “It’s about family relationships, standing up for what you believe and equality in the workforce, all issues we still deal with today.”
The new show, says Bergasse, is a sort of prequel to the TV series. “It’s the story of how Hazel meets the Baxters, the family she works for. We’re not limiting the characters you meet in our musical to Hazel and the Baxters. The authors have created some wonderfully colorful characters that are a big part of our story.”
Like the self-assured character she portrays, “Hazel” star Klea Blackhurst has no doubt that audiences will respond positively to the lovable domestic who made her first appearance in The Saturday Evening Post in 1943. “If you know Hazel from television, this show will delight you. If you have no idea what a Hazel is, this show will delight you,” Blackhurst says. “Hazel is the most observant, experienced person in the room. Once you’ve experienced this show, I’d love it if, rather than wanting a Hazel in your life, you’d want to be a Hazel in someone else’s.”
March 31-May 29, Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace. For tickets ($50-$55), visit Drurylanetheatre.com.