THE HERTZ STAGE BECOMES COURTENAY COLLINS’ LIVING ROOM AS THE SINGER CELEBRATES JOY, WITH TWINKLY LIGHTS, COCKTAILS AND SEASONAL SONGS
“Courtenay’s Cabaret: Home for the Holidays” runs Dec. 2-24 on the Alliance Theatre’s Hertz Stage. Details, tickets HERE or at 404.733.5000.
WHEN SHE LOOKS BACK on coming home for Christmas in her college days and as a young performer, actor-singer Courtenay Collins chokes up.
“It was all, oh, it was just all so …” Nearly sobbing, she stops. Her mother, Jan Collins, she recalls, “has always made it so warm and so wonderful.”
What Collins knows is that there’s no place like home for the holidays. She lives in Sandy Springs now, not far from the dream home her parents built, and where she grew up, on the Chattahoochee River.
“Years of joyous memories flooded through me whenever I walked through those doors to greet the incredible folks I am blessed to call my parents,” Collins says. Her mom is an expert cook, “so the smells were divine.” There were lots of parties, and music filled the house.
Collins moved back home with her folks when her marriage failed, and she had two young sons. They stayed for seven years, until she met and married Michael Eckhardt, the love of her life. The two were classmates at Riverwood High School in the 1980s but never dated.
A funeral last December took Collins out of town and away from favorite traditions — her neighborhood’s annual caroling, her in-laws’ Christmas party where she plays the piano. The holiday felt joyless.
All that brings us here, to Courtenay’s Cabaret: Home for the Holidays. For the show, the Hertz Stage black-box becomes a twinkly living room (set design by Kat Conley). Collins, backed by a three-piece band, tells stories, sings favorite songs and is joined each night by a different special guest. Cocktails are on sale, so that should amp up the merriment.
“I know what it is to be sad and depressed and down in the valley,” says Collins. “But I come from a family full of great joy and think it’s my job to share that.”
Courtenay’s Cabaret is new to the Alliance, but not a new endeavor for Collins, who trained in opera, studied acting at New York’s Juilliard School and appeared at Atlanta’s late great Libby’s: A Cabaret in Buckhead.
Collins created, produced and performed a holiday cabaret show in Sandy Springs in 2011 and 2012, renting Act 3 Playhouse, borrowing tacky Christmas yard art from friends and plastering the walls with holiday glitz.
“I was exhausted! But it was wonderful,” she says. Then her dad died, and she lost her enthusiasm for the show.
Now revamped and directed by Alliance Theatre artistic director Susan V. Booth, the show won’t croon only about Christmas. “We celebrate everybody,” Collins says.
As for each evening’s mystery guest, Collins predicts “a smorgasbord of Atlanta talent” and won’t give away many surprises. But she does mention actor Tom Key, news anchor Brenda Wood and the Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus as possibilities. Stage and film actor Laura Linney, a three-time Emmy Award winner and a friend from her Juilliard days, has promised to stop by. Does Linney sing?
“Let’s just say she’s going to sing with me!”
“Courtenay is joy and grace and goofy fun, too,” says Atlanta playwright Janece Shaffer, who has worked with Collins on her plays Managing Maxine and The Geller Girls. “Her voice, gorgeous. Her charm is endless, and what I love most is that she is always poised to laugh.”
Given her blue holiday last year, Collins is revved up for this show. “I said, by golly, next Christmas I’m doing my show. In spite of all the crap going on in the world, we are going to be joyful.”
It’s a sure bet you’ll hear “(There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays.” “Home” is one idea Collins will never let go.