BWW Reviews: BRIAN STOKES MITCHELL Sings 'Happy Holidays' with NSO - What a Performance!
NSO presents a wonderful holiday celebration.
Brian Stokes Mitchell...the 10th time I've seen him on stage. He brings such theatricality to every song. An appreciative audience at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall was in a festive mood and the hall was festooned with the appropriate decorations of Christmas Trees on each side of the stage, snow flakes above the stage with an airplane sled, rocking horse sled, a train sled, and a wooden sled all hanging from above.
Conductor Steven Reineke looked like a kid in a candy store directing the National Symphony. He was swaying back in forth while conducting having a joyous time. Also included in the concert was the wonderfully entertaining University of Maryland Concert Choir under the direction of Ed McClary.
It was a delight to see so many young attendees who looked like they were having a ball.
The evening began with a "Holiday Overture" to put everyone in the mood for the holidays. The Chorus was then featured in "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year." Reineke didn't use any music for this number since he did the arrangement. I noticed he blew a kiss to the choir at the end. Even the snowflakes over the stage were illuminated.
It was then that Brian Stokes Mitchell made his initial appearance wearing a long evening coat (like those worn by President Lincoln) with a bright red lining. Accompanying Stokes on the piano was the gifted pianist Tedd Firth. The evening demonstrated not only Mitchell's ability as a performer, but as an arranger and composer.
Conductor Reineke then introduced Mitchell as the one of the finest baritones in the business. His first number was "We Need a Little Christmas" from MAME written by Jerry Herman. This was followed by a Mitchell arrangement of "A Crazy Christmas List" and "The Christmas Song". It was a jazzy up tempo piece with gorgeous piano work.
Both Mitchell and Firth arranged "You're a Mean One Mister Grinch" by Albert Hague from "How the Grinch Stole Christmas". Mitchell demonstrated what a consummate performer he is with just amazing facial expressions.
The NSO then did the ever popular "Jingle Bell Rock" and the Ukranian "Carol of the Bells" which Reineke described as sounding like it came from the "Harry Potter " films.
Mitchell returned and was amazing during his rendition of "The Friendly Beats" which he sang along with the chorus. Here the song called for Mitchell to sound like a donkey, a cow, and a sheep. I've never heard a more beautiful "Baaaaah".
Thanskivikah was next on the agenda. Mitchell asked how many people celebrated Chanukah and joked about the oddity of both Thanksgiving and Chanukah being on the same day. He mentioned how much he adores the music of Stephen Schwartz (WICKED) and mentioned he would sing a tune that few people have ever heard and for possibly for the first time had a symphonic version. The song was titled "We Are Lights" (not mentioned in the program) and it was spectacular. Mitchell's biography refers to a number of animated films he's done and he finished his Hebraic portion of the program with another Schwartz number from the animated "The Prince of Egypt", the powerful "Through Heaven's Eyes".
After intermission, the NSO and chorus sang a rollicking number by John Williams from the film "Home Alone". Mitchell returned and while sitting on a stool sang one of his own numbers "Christmas Is", from a child's point of view. And as the lyric goes, "Christmas is all about ME!". It reminded me of a Randy Neuman composition. Then Mitchell got the audience to sing along during the chorus part of the song where we all sang, "Christmas is all about YOU!"
There was another lovely ballad by a friend of Mitchell's, Jeff Colella, entitled "Christmastime".
Young percussionist and Reston, VA resident Alex Arshadi then came on to accompany Mitchell with "Little Drummer Boy". It was a highlight of the evening. The sixteen year old revealed he's a student of the NSO's Principal Percussionist Eric Shin. What a future he has in store of him. He played a large Conga like drum and demonstrated how proficient he is with a great solo.