Kristen Hertzenberg and Philip Fortenberry Open Their ‘Heart’

Kristen Phil Story

Kristen Hertzenberg’s singing voice is a gift. I realize that’s kind of a common thing to say—especially right now, with all of us up to our asses in wrapping paper and rotating debt—but I can’t think of a better way to describe her instrument. The former “Phantom of the Opera” co-lead can tear up a blues number, navigate the precipitous twists and turns of a operatic piece, or perform a humble campfire folk song … and she can do all these things one after the other, without a break. That’s a gift, real and true. And luckily for us, Hertzenberg is sharing that gift with an audience once again.

On December 13, Hertzenberg and pianist Philip Fortenberry will perform “Holidays from the Heart,” a special holiday concert featuring songs from Hertzenberg & Fortenberry’s 2011 album of the same name, at Cabaret Jazz at the Smith Center. And before you recoil in fear—more holiday music?—you ought to know that Hertzenberg and Fortenberry aren’t planning to give you re-gifted junk.

“We’re definitely going to do some songs you don’t hear in regular rotation on the radio and in department stores,” says Hertzenberg. “There are some songs in the program we hadn’t even heard before we recorded the album; we dug them up doing research. That makes it more of an enriching experience for us, because Phil and I get burnt out on holiday music, too.”

What you can expect to hear is a varied, lively program that draws equally from Broadway tradition and the more personal realm of the singer-songwriter. Past Cabaret Jazz shows by Hertzenberg have included nods to the Indigo Girls and Rufus Wainwright; she names Lyle Lovett as one of her inspirations. It’s safe to say the holiday show will include a few surprise packages.

“We want to have fun as much as we want the audience to have fun,” Hertzenberg says. “We’re doing a few unexpected things, and a few unexpected moods, too. It’s not just going to be a show full of cheerfulness. We’re trying to dive into all the different aspects of what Christmas means to different people.”

And what Christmas means to Hertzenberg is another opportunity to perform with a collaborator whose work she’s admired since they first played together in 2007. Hertzenberg says that Fortenberry has been an ideal collaborator right from day one.

“He’s an amazing listener. He never just sits down and plays the notes on the page. He’s all about bringing out the best in the singer or instrumentalist he’s playing with. It’s like he taps into your skull.”

(That’s not the only compliment Hertzenberg hands out during our interview. She matter-of-factly ascribes much of the brilliance of her Cabaret Jazz shows to the room itself: “The sound crew at Cabaret Jazz does such an amazing job that you feel like you’re better than you actually are.”)

Hertzenberg doesn’t reveal what the program of “Holidays from the Heart” might hold in store, which is fine by me; I’m not the kind of chump who shakes a wrapped gift. But she does tip her hand a bit when I ask her which holiday song she enjoys singing most: “There’s Still My Joy,” a Beth Nielsen Chapman/Melissa Manchester/Matt Rollings composition, and the seventh track on the Holidays from the Heart album.

“It’s not a big, flashy song; vocally, it’s pretty simple,” Hertzenberg says. “But it requires you to tap into a really honest place. That’s an interesting challenge, particularly when it comes to Christmas music.”

I strongly recommend that you see Kristen Hertzenberg and Philip Fortenberry meet that challenge at Cabaret Jazz. Give something nice to yourself, for a change.

Kristen Hertzenberg and Philip Fortenberry: Holidays from the Heart at Cabaret Jazz, December 13, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets are available here.

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