12/23/2020 A VERY TERRY CHRISTMAS Alliance Theatre Anywhere
SPREADING JOY WHEREVER SHE GOES
The first thing that needs to be said is, Terry Burrell is an Atlanta treasure. Any project she undertakes is not only doomed for massive success, but also quickly becomes a source for a memorable theatrical experience that will stay with you long after the lights have faded and the set has been struck.
From her unforgettable Ethel Waters in Ethel to her unforgettable Billie Holiday in Lady Day at the Emerson Bar and Grill, to her queen in Ever After to her dual roles in Hospice / Pointing at the Moon to her Anna Campbell in Angry, Raucous, and Shamelessly Gorgeous to so many more both here and on Broadway, Ms. Burrell has created a body of work that is truly staggering in both its range and its depth. This past autumn, she did a couple “We’re Still Here” cabarets that proved she was equally at home in a casual concert setting, shooting her enormous talent through the Zoom Lens and into our homes.
So, it was with great anticipation that I learned she was planning a solo holiday concert, A Very Terry Christmas, that would (hopefully) bring audiences back to the Woodruff Arts Center.
But, you know, life happens, and the virus wins again.
Or does it?
Ms. Burrell huddled with director Susan Booth and producer Tinashe Kajese-Bolden to muddle through a few CRAZY ideas. Instead of putting the concert on the Alliance Stage, why not put it in iconic Atlanta locations, creating both a joyous celebration of all things Atlanta and a joyous celebration of the talent of Terry Burrell?
So, with a three-piece back-up band magically crammed into a snow globe (don’t ask), and with stage manager lark hackshaw (an Atlanta treasure herself) in tow, Ms. Burrell is off to show off her favorite city, choosing an appropriate song for each locale. They may not all be Christmas songs, but they are all perfect for their settings – “Cheeseburger in Paradise” at the Varsity, “Too Many Fish in the Seas” at the Georgia Aquarium, “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” at the Atlanta Zoo, “Hall of Fame” at the College Football Hall of Fame, “It came Upon a Midnight Clear” at the Fernbank Planetarium, and so many more, including stops at the Center for Puppetry Arts for a duet with Stan the Lovesick Snowman, at the Skyview Ferris Wheel, at Fernbank’s Hall of Dinosaurs, and even at her own dentist’s office (“All I Want for Christmas is my Two Front Teeth” has to go somewhere).
My favorites had to be an Afro-Rhythmed “Little Drummer Boy” at the Center for Civil and Human Rights, and “God Bless the Child” at the 1st Congregational Church; the first because she took one of my least favorite Christmas songs and gave it a new sound and a new energy that completely demolished my dislike of the song, the latter because we had previously heard Ms. Burrell perfectly embody Billie Holiday’s version in Lady Day at the Emerson Bar and Grill, and now we got to hear her perfectly render it as herself. It made my toenails tingle.
Throughout it all, Ms. Burrell is a joyous celebrant of music and Atlanta, delightfully overplaying her “diva” persona (causing more than a few impatient signs from Ms. hackshaw), and even managing to toss some shade on our reliance on digital assistants (her “Elaine” help-bot definitely has attitude to spare). She shares the screen with anyone along for the ride, including fresh-faced Phillip Joiner III as the little drummer boy, an 8-voice choir to back up that song, and even her own sisters who back up “Cheeseburger in Paradise.”
And, as it should, it ends up back on the Coca-Cola Theatre’s empty stage for a moving (and hopefully prescient) “I’ll be Home for Christmas.”
A Very Terry Christmas is a very special holiday treat. It showcases a monumentally talented singer/actress, running amok in a monumentally diverse and exciting city, Just the logistics of filming in all these active locations that have remained open (ish) must have been staggering. But they did it, and the result is well worth the effort!
Thank You Alliance Theatre for this wonderful present (and Thank You Nameless Elf who made it possible for me to watch)!
-- Brad Rudy (BK Rudy@aol.com @bk_rudy #AVeryTerryChristmas #AllianceTheatreAnywhere)