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Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre streams a live virtual cabaret series

Terry Burrell (pictured as Ethel Waters in the Alliance’s one-person show “Ethel” from 2016) is one of two alternating hosts for the company’s “We’re Still Here: A Virtual Cabaret,” live-streaming on Facebook and YouTube each Thursday (July 9-Aug. 13). CONTRIBUTED BY THE ALLIANCE THEATRE
Terry Burrell (pictured as Ethel Waters in the Alliance’s one-person show “Ethel” from 2016) is one of two alternating hosts for the company’s “We’re Still Here: A Virtual Cabaret,” live-streaming on Facebook and YouTube each Thursday (July 9-Aug. 13). CONTRIBUTED BY THE ALLIANCE THEATRE

With a nod to the famous Stephen Sondheim show tune “I’m Still Here,” an anthem about survival of the human spirit against great odds, the Alliance Theatre is responding to the pandemic-related shutdown of Atlanta’s performing arts organizations with a virtual cabaret series, aptly entitled “We’re Still Here.” Beginning this Thursday — and continuing every Thursday through Aug. 13 — free half-hour episodes of the variety show will stream live on the company’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.

Sharing hosting duties on alternating weeks are two of the city’s most accomplished musical-theater veterans: Terry Burrell, whose previous Alliance credits include “Ever After,” “Candide” and “Ethel” (a one-woman show about Ethel Waters that she also wrote); and Courtenay Collins, whose Alliance resume includes “Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well…,” “Into the Woods” and “The Prom” (originating a role here that she later recreated when the show opened on Broadway).

Before the shutdown, Collins was about to start rehearsals for an Alliance staging of the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “Sweat.” Burrell, who had starred in the Alliance’s 2019 premiere of local playwright Pearl Cleage’s comedy “Angry, Raucous and Shamelessly Gorgeous,” was planning to reprise the role in productions of the play at other theaters in Denver and Washington, D.C.

Given a lot of the tumultuous current events over the ensuing months, Collins admits, “I was being so emotionally affected by everything that I just went kind of numb. For a while there, I couldn’t teach (giving private voice lessons). It became really difficult to find any joy at all, in terms of my singing or pursuing any sense of creativity.”

She pauses. “But, either I could feel like crawling into a hole and hiding from view, or I could really focus on that journey by working my way back to it (and) finding some sort of hope and beauty in things, even if the world at large hadn’t been very uplifting lately,” she concedes.

For her part, Burrell says she knows the feeling. “It’s almost like the world is taking a nap right now, and it’s easy for people to become complacent in an environment like that,” she notes. “Just as audiences are starving for entertainment, though, artists are looking for ways to keep their creative juices flowing, too, even if it means looking into new and different forms or formats.”

So, when Alliance artistic director Susan Booth approached them about co-hosting “We’re Still Here,” both Burrell and Collins seized the opportunity. The two performers had worked together before, sharing the Alliance stage for a 2017 children’s theater production called “Cinderella and Fella.” And Burrell also appeared as a guest-star in one of two holiday cabarets that Collins headlined in the company’s Hertz studio space (in 2016 and 2019).

Each episode promises to capture and reflect the style and spirit of the woman hosting it. “Both of us will be doing our own thing,” Burrell explains. “Courtenay’s the hostess with the most-est — so warm and welcoming, and such a funny, lively conversationalist — whereas my episodes will probably be a little more presentational, with more of a silly party atmosphere to them.”

Collins agrees — up to a point, at least: “Terry tells the most delightful and hilarious stories, and she always tells it like it is. She definitely doesn’t mince words.” At the same time, whatever their differences, “One thing we have in common is that we both love what we do, and everything we’re bringing to the shows really comes from our hearts,” Collins says.

Or, as Burrell puts it, “It’s mainly about having a good time, but hopefully it’s also a way to reassure folks that, however highly stressful these times may be, everything’s going to be OK, and this too shall pass.”

THEATER PREVIEW

“We’re Still Here: A Virtual Cabaret”

July 9-Aug. 13. Thursdays at 7 p.m. on the Alliance Theatre Facebook page and YouTube channel. Free. To register, visit alliancetheatre.org/virtual-cabaret.