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Q+A: Soprano Kristen Hertzenberg sheds six years of ‘Phantom’ to perform jazz, blues at Smith Center


Christopher DeVargas

Kristen Hertzenberg.

Click to enlarge photo

Kristen Hertzenberg.

Click to enlarge photo

Phantom -- The Las Vegas Spectacular cast members Anthony Crivello, Kristi Holden, Kristen Hertzenberg and Andrew Ragone celebrate five years at the Venetian on June 23, 2011.

For six years, classically trained soprano Kristen Hertzenberg starred in the dream role of Christine Daae in Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom — the Las Vegas Spectacular” at the Venetian, and fans honestly believed that the singer who beat thyroid cancer sang only “the serious stuff.”

But surprise, surprise, Kristen’s got far more in her vocal repertoire and plans to prove that she can rock out with jazz and blues, vowing that there will be no opera or musical theater.

Broadway musical director Wayne Green said: “She tosses off a Mozart trill and a gospel riff with equal ease.” Cirque du Soleil’s “Ka” musical director Richard Oberacker added: “Her instrument has range to spare, with a soprano tessitura of incredible color and depth, as well as a belt that is thrilling in its contemporary pop timbre.”

With so much hidden vocal talent, she’s now landed her own solo show, and it debuts at Cabaret Jazz in the Smith Center on Feb. 1. Tickets are on sale now, and I talked with the beautiful and bubbly blonde for this Q+A:

“I’m thrilled to be there! I’ve gotten to sing there so many times, but just one song at a time like when it’s a composer showcase or singing as a guest with Clint Holmes. But to be able to do my own show there is going to be great. The higher-ups there saw a performance of it and thought that we would be a good fit at Cabaret Jazz, so here we are.

“It will be a mix of blues, rock, country, jazz, a few little pop gems, the songs that have been important in my life through the years. No musical theater, no opera, because I get to sing that stuff all the time. Given the opportunity to be in complete control of what I’m doing creatively, I wanted to sing all the stuff that I never get to do otherwise.”

I’m immediately smiling because I like everybody else has pigeonholed you as a Broadway theater opera singer. How do you describe yourself?

“That’s mostly what I get hired to do, but there’s so many other influences. It’s become a challenge for me. I actually really love not being able to describe myself. Through the years, I’ve become pretty versatile. I’m definitely classically trained; that’s my foundation, and I’m grateful for that because I think it’s because of that that I’ve been able to spread my wings and make my voice grow in different ways because it’s been a bit of a technical process along the way.

“I credit fellow Las Vegas musician Keith Thompson a lot because I was pretty exclusively theater and opera, and then he did his piece ‘God Lives in Glass,’ and somebody told him that I could sing gospel music. So he invited me to come to his house and sing a gospel song in the show. I was so nervous when I auditioned for him, but he loved it and gave me the assignment. That was the first time I really publicly belted out something different than I was used to doing. It opened doors, so I’m grateful to him.”

Is it safe to say that for six years, Las Vegas embraced you as Christine, but now comes this complete surprise change because it’s no longer opera and classical theater? What other surprises than just pop or gospel?

“I might even rap in the show; that could be a real surprise! I think the heaviest influence in the show is the loose part of what came organically from working with the band. I didn’t just hand these guys their charts and tell them to show up and play. We all built this show together, and everybody had input, so it kind of went in more of a blues direction once I saw what I had with them. They’re such great players. It’s going to wind up about 90 minutes in total and about 15 songs.”

And we’re going to walk away with a completely different understanding of just who Kristen Hertzenberg really is?

“Most definitely. I want people to walk away feeling like they had a connection with me. Like they were in my living room with me and got to know who I am behind those ‘Phantom’ wigs, the makeup and the opera costumes that you usually see me here in this town. I’m all about that connection.”

Phantom 2,000th Show Luncheon at Aquaknox

Cast members of Phantom -- the Las Vegas Spectacular at their 2,000th show luncheon at Aquaknox in The Venetian on Jan. 28, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Phantom's 2,000th Performance at The Venetian

pictured as Phantom - The Las Vegas Spectacular celebartes it's 200oth performance at The Phantom Theater at The Ventian Resort-Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas, NV on February 1, 2011.  RD/ Erik Kabik/ Retna Digital ***HOUSE COVERAGE*** Launch slideshow »

Final Bow of ‘Phantom’: 9/2/12

The final performance of Launch slideshow »

How do you feel after making the journey to do Las Vegas theater and winding up a full-time resident?

“I’m from Houston originally, but I moved here from New York for ‘Phantom.’ I fell in love with Vegas even before the show closed and decided to stay. It took a few years for me to wrap my head around this town. Just this morning, I was thinking about how several years ago I wrote one of your summer guest columns when you were in Italy.

I went back to read it, and it’s so obvious that I had not yet wrapped my head around this town. I was still kind of unsure of things. Eventually, my husband, Dana Satterwhite, opened an art gallery here at Emergency Arts downtown, and we had our daughter, and that makes you see the town in a whole new way, so it definitely is home now. I feel like the town has been really good to me; I don’t have anything to complain about.”

Obviously you miss the regularity of “Phantom,” but you also relish the freedom of being able to show everybody you’re not just Christine, so where do you want this show to take you? What do you hope it’s going to bring?

“I don’t have specific goals in mind for it because it’s never been about that for me. It’s been about creating something that makes me happy that allows me to be creative and spread my wings a little bit, and so far by doing that, the show has continued and good things have happened with it. Rather than saying this is where I want to go, this is what I want to do, I’m kind of enjoying just going with the flow and seeing what happens. I think that if you just follow your heart and do what you’re passionate about and make yourself happy, a lot of times that shines through and things just follow.

“I can’t say enough about my band. There are six Las Vegas musicians. Two are from ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ (at Harrah’s); Martin Kaye, who plays Jerry Lee Lewis, on piano, and Ben Hale, who plays Johnny Cash, on guitar and vocals. George Bryant is on drums, and he plays in ‘Legends,’ and Bob Sachs, who is a legend, is one of the best bass players in town. Pablo Gadda is fairly new to town, but you’ll see he will tear it up as one of the best guitar players I’ve ever seen, incredibly proficient in every aspect of guitar. Plus, the incomparable Joel Ferguson.”

This is all very exciting because it is so new. But is it also nerve wracking, or not at all after doing six years at the Venetian?

“Six-plus years in “Phantom” didn’t prepare me for this at all because you’re so rehearsed and everything is so planned out. There are moments that are off the cuff here because I’m just being me. So the first time I ran it through at Art Square Theater, I was incredibly nervous, but as soon as it started, I had such a great time and the nerves just kind of melted away. Then I got to do it as one more showcase at Foundation Room, and that one I was less nervous. This time I’m just looking forward to the fun.

“I think Cabaret Jazz at Smith Center is the best room in town. The sound is absolutely exquisite, and that’s one of the things I’m looking forward to the most. It’s such a sophisticated stage, but not so much that you can’t sit back and have a good time. It’s perfect; it’s such a gift to this town.”

Kristen Hertzenberg’s show is Saturday, Feb. 1, at 7 p.m., with tickets at $25 now on sale.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

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