A few days ago I was driving out of the parking garage of my Downtown building, while illegally and inadvisably looking over some texts I’d received that morning. One was from Kristen Hertzenberg, scheduling a phone chat later that day. As I blithely made it around a corner in that garage, I nearly slammed into an oncoming SUV. I stopped short, gave the requisite wave and realized I knew the driver of that rig: Dana Satterwhite. Husband of Kristen Hertzenberg.
Yes, you can say that Dana and Kristen are part of our community, so close you can almost actually run into them at home. So it is with a healthy measure of sadness that we have learned the couple and their daughter, Shea, are planning to leave Las Vegas for Hertzenberg’s original home of Kingwood, Texas, a suburb of Houston.
Largely as a result of her roles in Strip production shows, Hertzenberg is well known and highly regarded in the Vegas entertainment community. An opera-trained vocalist who can sing anything, she moved to the city in 2006 to perform in Phantom—The Las Vegas Spectacular at the Venetian, playing the role of Christine for the entire six-year run. Currently, she portrays Dyanne in Million Dollar Quartet at Harrah’s. Hertezenberg’s run closes August 2, and the family moves the day after.
But her Strip roles only brush the surface of Hertzenberg’s affiliation with Las Vegas. She has been a regular performer at the Composers Showcase for nearly a decade, dating to the days when those nights of entertainment were crammed into the cabaret room at the Liberace Museum. She has floored audiences at Mandalay Bay with her own rock/blues/country band. Her performances with the great pianist Philip Fortenberry at Cabaret Jazz have served as a blend of two of the city’s most inspired artists. Just a couple weeks ago, she appeared at Reynolds Hall in a tribute to legendary producer Hal Prince. And when Keith Thompson has needed a top-notch voice to convey his satirical musical Idaho! to Vegas audiences, Hertzenberg has been on that short list, too.
Meantime, Satterwhite has remained active in Downtown Las Vegas as an art-gallery manager (most recently of TastySpace, which closed in December). Thus, the decision to move away was not easy, nor was it made in haste. In the end, family in Texas won out over a life in Vegas.
“We have been mulling this over for six or seven months, and eventually we just had to make the decision about what was important, and it’s all about Shea,” Hertzenberg says. “She’s 6 now, just finished kindergarten, and family is everything. My family is in Texas, and Dana’s parents’ moved there from New York and live just a half-mile from my parents now.”
Shea will need to know her grandparents, and assorted aunts and uncles, all in that Houston area. And there is the great-grandmother, Georgia Mitchell, who is Dana’s grandmother. “She is 100 years old,” Hertzenberg says. “She’ll be 101 on July 8, so yes, we want her to reap the rewards of Granny’s 100 years.”
Satterwhite has the type of “laptop job” that allows him to work from just about anywhere. Hertzenberg, forever a busy singer and stage performer, has worked an eight-show, six-night-a-week schedule in MDQ since she took over as the lead in the show in March. She plans to continue her performances with Fortenberry around the country, including a December return to Cabaret Jazz, while spending far more time at home attending to Shea.
“I love MDQ, but this schedule is a real challenge for me, as a mother, and I’m going to find more of a balance,” Hertzenberg says. “There is a way to do what I do professionally without having to do it six nights a week. I am really looking forward to collaborating more with Philip and touring with him. I am very proud of that collaboration.”
The nature of show business, in this city or any other entertainment mecca, is that great people with great talent don’t always stick around forever. When I ask what she would miss most about Las Vegas, Hertzenberg says, “The people, absolutely. The wide range of great people and great talent here. We can only hope to find, in the community of Houston, a fraction of what we’ve experienced here.”
She pauses. “I really just feel it’s important to say out loud that we are not abandoning Las Vegas, or running away from it. We will never just leave Las Vegas in the rear-view mirror.”
Just as Phantom beckoned nearly a decade ago, family is beckoning today. Whenever this cast wants to return, they’re always welcome. We have some great stages and, of course, plenty of parking.