Alliance Theatre streams new holiday play, “A Very Terry Christmas”

Viewers can spot notable local landmarks throughout the play.

The suspension of any live productions from Atlanta’s arts organizations during the coronavirus pandemic has brought to a virtual standstill for the careers of countless acting talents and musical-theater performers for nearly nine months — but Terry Burrell is among a select few who seem to have endured.

In July, she alternated hosting duties (with Courtenay Collins) in a month-long streaming cabaret for the Alliance, “We’re Still Here.” In October, she starred in (and also wrote) a one-woman revue, “Backstage and Other Stories,” as part of Synchronicity’s “4x4” digital series. And now she’s concurrently appearing in two more online projects, including a Horizon script reading of the familial AIDS drama “Love, M.”

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The second one is the Alliance’s “A Very Terry Christmas,” another solo vehicle of sorts that was initially intended to be performed by Burrell (with a three-piece band) to limited, physically distanced audiences from the company’s main stage at the Woodruff Arts Center. Instead, artistic director Susan Booth eventually reconceived the holiday musical for the new Alliance Theatre Anywhere digital platform.

It may be for the best that no one is (dis)credited in the playbill for writing the hokey, overly precious script, in which Burrell struts like a kind of flighty diva, frequently pining about “theater magic” — even as that magic manifests itself through various virtual techniques involving camerawork (videography by Felipe Barral), editing (also uncredited) and other special effects that transport her between many famous Atlanta locations to lip-synch a dozen prerecorded songs (music direction by Tyrone Jackson).

Some numbers admittedly are a stretch: “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” at Zoo Atlanta; “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” from a dentist’s office; “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” sung to a giant dinosaur skeleton at the Fernbank Museum of Natural History.

Some have next to nothing to do with Christmas at all: “Cheeseburger in Paradise” from the Varsity; “Too Many Fish in the Sea” at the Georgia Aquarium; “Hall of Fame” from the College Football Hall of Fame; “There’s Always Tomorrow” at the Center for Puppetry Arts, opposite Stan the Lovesick Snowman (when “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” with a cameo by that titular star of the Center’s own annual holiday show, would’ve made perfect sense).

Credit: Greg Mooney

Credit: Greg Mooney

Still, in isolated moments featuring heartfelt and soulful interpretations of a few more traditional yuletide carols, “A Very Terry Christmas” rings resoundingly true: “The Little Drummer Boy,” set to a tribal beat with a chorus of backup singers at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights; “The Holly and the Ivy” at the Atlanta Botanical Garden; “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” at the Starfield; “God Bless the Child” at the First Congregational Church.

Credit: Greg Mooney

Credit: Greg Mooney

And when things culminate with Burrell and her band — the three musicians finally freed from their miniaturized confinement inside a snow globe (don’t ask) — assuming their rightful positions on the Alliance stage, where they were originally supposed to be in the first place, their rendition of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” is sublime, literally as well as virtually.

Late in the one-hour show, Burrell briefly laments these stressful times, our common struggles with COVID-19, racial reckoning and a contentious election, and the way “high-tech distractions” can often obscure “what really matters” and “how much beauty there is around us.”

For all of its similar distractions, if only Booth’s production had demonstrated more of a seasonal spirit by sharing its limelight with other equally talented local luminaries who’ve been largely out of sight lately. Sure, it’s nice to see Burrell again, but imagine her hosting something like one of those vintage TV variety specials, singing duets with a cast of “guest stars.” Most of them might relish the work, and it could’ve been great to see a lot of them back at it; the more the merrier.


THEATER REVIEW

“A Very Terry Christmas”

Streaming through Dec. 31. $20. 404-733-4650, alliancetheatre.org.

Bottom line: Some nice singing and lots of great locations, but the concept is awfully cutesy.