A Very Terry Christmas hits it sweet spot about 50 minutes in, when performer, song and venue coalesce in a wondrous moment. It’s our good fortune that the singer is Terry Burrell, the song is “God Bless the Child” and the venue is the First Congregational Church of Atlanta, with its honey-hued pews and vibrant stained-glass windows.
This Alliance Theatre concert/revue is available virtually through December 31. The company’s other holiday offering, a drive-in version of A Christmas Carol: The Radio Play, begins performances this week.
The hourlong Very Terry Christmas, which celebrates Atlanta and the season, has several fun numbers, but all are dragged down by too much interstitial nonsense — Burrell reaching the Woodruff Art Center to find it locked; using “theater magic” to go from location to location; irrelevant chatter with her driver, stage manager and assorted others who wander in and out; and, as a framing device, too much talk of COVID-19 and the need for social distancing. We know. We get it. We’re all in it.
Burrell who, thanks to the prevalence of streaming, has had a busy fall, is unforgettable when she loses herself in a scripted character (Ethel, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill). Here, as in the Alliance’s summertime happy-hour cabaret and her own autobiographical one-woman show at Synchronicity Theatre last fall, she’s herself in material that needs serious editing and stronger direction.
The “Very Terry” conceit is that with the Woodruff locked down, Burrell decides to visit some of her favorite Atlanta destinations. We do get the highest of the highs in “God Bless the Child,” with Burrell reprising the indelible Billie Holiday she created at Theatrical Outfit in 2018.
Also enjoyable are “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” at Fernbank Museum of Natural History; “The Holly and the Ivy” at the Atlanta Botanical Garden; “The Little Drummer Boy,” with choristers and young musician Phillip Joiner III on an African drum (National Center for Civil and Human Rights); and the not-exactly-Christmasy “Cheeseburger in Paradise” (the Varsity), with her sisters appearing virtually and singing backup. Her combo — Tyrone Jackson on piano, Quinton “Q” Robinson on drums and Ramon Pooser on bass — swings, and we won’t spoil the finale here. Just know that it’s worth your while.
Clearly, the lowest scene comes with”Dr. Jerry,” who gives Burrell emergency dental care (“All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth”) and brags awkwardly about his many years as an Alliance subscriber. Ick. Not the time, place or season for this kind of self-serving plug.
In all, A Very Terry Christmas gives us 10 musical numbers at 10 locations. Still, at an hour, it feels long. Less chatter and a solid 45 minutes of music would make the event merry and brighter.
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