By Manning Harris
The late, great American stage actress Helen Hayes called her autobiography “A Gift of Joy.” I can think of no better sobriquet for Atlanta actor/singer Courtenay Collins’ one-woman cabaret, but Ms. Collins has beat me to it. She calls it simply “Home for the Holidays,” and it runs at Alliance Theatre’s Hertz Stage through Dec. 24.
But make no mistake: Joy is what Ms. Collins’ show is about. It’s a completely charming evening of music, patter, and surprises that you will not want to end. Directed by Alliance Artistic Director Susan Booth, the show reveals Ms. Collins to be endearing, funny, and magnetic; she’s also blessed with a terrific singing voice that sails easily from pop to operatic in a single phrase. Her emphasis here is on traditional, popular, seasonal songs.
She makes her entrance singing “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” onto what I’ll call “Courtenay’s Salon,” a beautiful, glittering set designed by Kat Conley. At once you feel you’ve landed in the welcoming home of a grand hostess, and you have. Ms. Collins is wonderfully lighthearted, but she’s also a natural storyteller and entertainer, and entertain she does.
The closest seats are intimate little tables, but she somehow manages to talk to everyone in the room individually, or so it seems. There are no strangers at “Courtenay’s Cabaret”; we’re all her invited guests—that’s how you feel. Have I mentioned there’s a cocktail bar in the salon? And it’s open and pouring, before the show and at intermission.
The emphasis, however, is on the music. Kudos go to music director and pianist Amanda Wansa Morgan, Scott Glazer (bass), and Quinton “Q” Robinson on drums. Like all of us, they’re part of the show as well. Ms. Collins does a Marilyn-inspired “Santa Baby,” “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,”and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” I think Courtenay (we’re all on a first-name basis here) likes Santa.
Then there are the mystery guests; we’re promised “a smorgasbord of Atlanta talent,” but the night I attended stage and film actor Laura Linney, an old college chum (Juilliard, thank you) of Ms. Collins, popped in and chatted and sang a song with Courtenay. Seeing Ms. Linney, in town for a film, was a real treat. In addition, Atlanta favorite Chris Kayser, costumed as Marley for “A Christmas Carol” (playing upstairs), made a brief appearance. Actually, it’s Ms. Collins’ triumph that she makes everyone in her audience feel like a star; no mean accomplishment.
In a slightly more serious vein, Ms. Collins paid tribute to members of the armed services, past and present, with “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” She performed “My Favorite Things,” noting that she’d always liked Barbra Streisand’s rendition on her Christmas album, recorded in the 60’s. Barbra fan that I am, Ms. Collins immediately won me over. (I’m kidding; I was already under the spell of Ms. Collins’ charm and talent.)
The star of the evening looked beautiful, by the way. To answer the late Joan Rivers’ famous question “Who are you wearing?” I can say that Ms. Collins’ two lovely gowns are designed by the Alliance’s Jeff Cone.
Courtenay Collins is a singer, actor, and entertainer par excellence. Her “Home for the Holidays” is guaranteed to give even determined grinches a second thought. With Courtenay, you’re going first class all the way.
For tickets and information, visit alliancetheatre.org.