It began with an album. In November 2011, Phantom—The Las Vegas Spectacular star Kristen Hertzenberg released Holidays From the Heart, a vocal record of holiday standards with virtuoso pianist Philip Fortenberry. The record draws from multifarious influences—it offers splendid versions of “Silent Night,” Beth Nielsen Chapman and Melissa Manchester’s “There’s Still My Joy” and A Charlie Brown Christmas perennial “Christmas Time Is Here”—and the opera-trained Hertzenberg performs the songs with the close intimacy of a cabaret singer and the power of someone who belted out Phantom of the Opera songs several nights a week.
“I chose to do a holiday album because I’m all over the place in terms of, ‘What kind of music do you sing?’” Hertzenberg says. “I do some opera, some jazz, some blues. I want to do everything, and if you do a holiday album, you can do whatever you want.”
Hertzenberg and Fortenberry have since made a yearly ritual of performing cuts from Holidays From the Heart and other holiday songs live. That ritual continues this year with two free shows—December 8, 3 p.m. at the Windmill Library theater and December 9, 3 p.m. at the Rainbow Library theater. (Hertzenberg is excited to play for an audience “that we might not otherwise get to be with” because of the ticket price of the show’s previous, Cabaret Jazz iterations not being an easy fit for tight holiday budgets). She’ll also perform, once again, in the Las Vegas Philharmonic’s “Classic Holiday” show (December 1 at the Smith Center).
What all makes this all the more remarkable is that Hertzenberg, her husband Dana Satterwhite (proprietor of Downtown’s late, great TastySpace Gallery) and her family relocated to her original hometown of Houston in 2015. That means every time she returns to Vegas to perform holiday songs, it’s a gift.
Hertzenberg is flattered when I suggest that she’s contributing an annual holiday tradition to a city that—with notable exceptions including Ethel M’s holiday lights and Opportunity Village’s Magical Forest—is still a bit young to have acquired many of its own. “It’s a tradition of mine, too, to be able to make music at the holiday,” Hertzenberg says. “I look forward to spending time with my family as everyone else does, but I also look forward to getting onstage, because the audience gives you an entirely different sentiment than they do the rest of the year.”
And that sentiment is strong here, she says. “My favorite thing about Vegas during the holidays is that the various outreach organizations really ramp it up—Chet Buchanan’s toy drive, Opportunity Village, the [Three Square] food bank. And the community steps up, too. Everyone is in it together.”