BWW Interviews: Brian Stokes Mitchell Celebrates Holidays with New York Philharmonic
This weekend, Broadway star Brian Stokes Mitchell will make his debut with the New York Philharmonic, performing a selection of traditional and contemporary holiday songs--all with a decidedly Broadway vibe.
Along with conductor Ted Sperling, Stokes chose his song selections to create a certain vibe. "The order of songs decide what the concert's going to be about," he said. "I gave a lot of thought to what I want the audience to experience." As early as nine months ago, Stokes had an idea of what he wanted this concert to be. "Because it's a Holiday concert, I want everyone leaving the theater feeling 10 times better than when they walked in. In the course of that, they'll also get to laugh, maybe cry a bit."
For himself, Stokes feels that the holidays are a "spiritual" time of year. "It's that time when we reflect and go inside a bit and [think about] how we see the world and how we see the spiritual aspects of our lives," he said. To that end, he wanted his concert to have a certain structure: The first half is fun and playful, but the second evokes a child's sense of the holiday season, and is meant to be somewhat more reflective. " I have a 10-year-old," the singer notes, "and having a kid, you see Christmas and the holidays through new eyes--or old eyes that you used to see from. It's about revisiting that, as well."
As a bona fide Broadway star (and since the concert is, after all, called A Broadway Christmas), Stokes felt obligated to begin with Jerry Herman's "We Need a Little Christmas" from Mame. He also performs Stephen Schwartz's Hanukkah song "We Are Light" and the ever-popular "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch" from How The Grinch Stole Christmas. "I like that one because it's such a part of our culture and psyche," Stokes said. "It's something kids love and adults love, and it always gets a big laugh."
But the evening will also be an opportunity for Stokes to show off other skills for which he may be less familiar, including orchestrating, arranging and composing. "I've played piano since I was six," he recalled, "and then started studying orchestrations, and I started transcribing scores in my late teens. In my 20s, I studied film scoring and conducting and arranging." Stokes scored some TV shows in his 20s, but otherwise, he doesn't have many opportunities to show off these talents. "My whole history is in this concert," he mused. "I act. I sing. I do cartoon-ish voiceover work-" for 'Friendly Beasts,' a traditional song Stokes first performed with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir-"and I arranged and orchestrated some of the songs."
The opportunity to perform this particular concert, which he has done all over the country in recent weeks, with the Philharmonic was especially meaningful for New York-basEd Stokes. "It's my hometown!" the Seattle-born singer exclaimed. "Broadway is here! My fanbase is here!" Audiences in New York, he added, tend t have a very sophisticated sense of music and art in general. "They go to museums, they go to the opera. I was excited about that aspect as well, and about making this an artful concert on top of it all. It's fun as well, and I'm really happy because it's a concert you can bring your kids to. I wanted it to work on a lot of different levels--on a fun level, on a spiritual level, on an artful level and on an entertainment level."