Erica von Kleist

Erica von Kleist

Mansplaining, menstruation and musical comedy collide in the new one-woman cabaret show “BOOBS!”.

That one woman, Erica von Kleist, fresh off her New York City debut, is bringing her talents to Missoula for a performance at the Downtown Dance Collective on Dec. 12.

The show features von Kleist, a Juilliard-trained saxophonist, flautist and piccolo player based in Whitefish, performing her original, satirical songs about womanhood and society, with some standup comedy sprinkled throughout.

“The songs are basically about all the things we don’t talk about,” von Kleist said, describing the lyrics as brutally honest. “It’s sort of a cross between the humor of Tim Minchin and Amy Schumer,” she said, adding they are two of her biggest influences.

Von Kleist grew up in Connecticut and said she found jazz at a young age. She ended up earning the first bachelor’s degree in jazz in the history of Juilliard. Since then, she’s toured the world with jazz groups, played with Wynton Marsalis in the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and was part of the pit orchestra for Addams Family on Broadway with Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth.

After several years based in New York City, von Kleist visited Whitefish in 2012 to perform with the Alpine Theater Project. Like a lot of us, it didn’t take long for her to realize she’d found her new home.

“I just came here and I fell in love with Montana, and I just decided the heck with it, I’m moving.”

On the hunt for a full-time job in her new home, von Kleist said she applied for a position she was more than qualified for with an arts organization in Montana. She was sure she'd at least get an interview, but instead was given what she called the "best of luck" email.  

“My qualifications screamed pretty loud and clear,” she said. “I know they never checked my references. I was in this position where I got really mad.”

Rather than burn a bridge with an organization she said was run by a group of patriarchal men in their 60s, she decided to put her pen to paper and do something she’d never done before.

“I had never written songs with words before, ever,” she said. “All of the sudden this stuff just started hitting me like a bolt of lightning over the course of a few months. I was just writing song after song and sitting at my piano and playing and singing them. It’s just something I’ve never ever done.”

That snowballed into her writing a full-blown musical with multiple characters, which debuted in New York City in March with an all-Broadway cast. She said a friend at that debut, who is also a producer, encouraged her to turn the act into a one-woman show.

“I thought, ‘I’m in the band. I’m the behind the scenes girl. I’m in the orchestra pit. I’m not meant to be up there being funny on stage,’” she said. “But I took his words to heart and I thought, ‘Well I’m going to try it.’ ”

After a house show was a success, she debuted the one-woman show in her hometown of Whitefish in September, took it to New York City in October and now sets out to make Missoula laugh.

“It’s totally brand new, but everywhere I’ve done this has been a huge hit, so I’m rolling with it,” she said.

The first song she wrote, “You’re the man,” makes fun of the male tendency of “mansplaining.” And “You’re becoming a woman, but let’s not talk about it,” focuses on the taboo nature of menstruation. She has another song about taking selfies and others that talk about abortion, body image and income disparity.

“It makes people laugh, it makes people slightly, but delightfully, uncomfortable, and then it makes people think,” she said.

And that’s part of her goal. She said humor is a great delivery method to get a point across.

“You know how melodies get stuck in your head?” she asked. “Well, use a melody to stick a concept in someone’s head, and use humor because people are going to remember a good joke. They’re going to want to talk about it.”

Heather Adams, executive director of the Downtown Dance Collective, said they’re looking forward to hosting “BOOBS!” and said it worked out well because von Kleist is also this year’s guest artist for the University of Montana Jazz Program Holiday Swing fundraiser set for Dec. 14.

“We’ve done very female-centric things here before, so I think it’s right up our alley for things we’ve produced in the past,” Adams said.

Von Kleist said the show is “Rated R for really funny with adult humor.” She suggested parents leave young kids at home.

After her Missoula show, von Kleist will become her own booking agent, setting up shows around the country.

“I’m going to spend the entire year of 2020 marketing my show,” she said. “It’s grown so fast that it’s really hard to predict where this is going, but everything that I’ve manifested and wanted to have happen with it, it’s happening.”