BWW Review: Brian Stokes Mitchell at SF Symphony

BWW Review: Brian Stokes Mitchell at SF Symphony

Performer Brian Stokes Mitchell speaks of his desire to uplift his audience by adding character to his music. Davies Symphony Hall discovered his exact meaning Wednesday when "Stokes" - "affectionately" called so by conductor Randall Craig Fleischer - immediately lit up the stage with a hearty smile. His personality, as joyful and inspiring as the holiday season celebrated, tells a story in itself.

The San Francisco Symphony began its "Broadway Christmas" with a "White Christmas" medley, after which Stokes opened with an upbeat "Need a Little Christmas" from "Mame." Other selections highlighted Broadway's Stephen Schwartz with a Hanukah-inspired "We are Lights" and "Heaven's Eyes" from the film "Prince of Egypt." Between songs, Stokes recalled his first performance with a symphony - San Francisco's, his overseas childhood holidays with service men and women, sitting in the "man chair" while his wife shopped, and his experience as a father. The mention of his young son led to a touching "New Words," written by Tony-award winning composer Maury Yeston. Its lyrics speak as a father teaching his son, particularly of love. Whoever orchestrated the concert's light design deserves special credit for providing lovely stars as accompaniment.

The standard reds and whites lit the symphony during holiday classics such as "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and Stokes' encore finale, "What are You Doing New Year's Eve." The other holiday color, green, set the mood for a surprising and animated "Grinch." Stokes used the stage - and more than one instrument - liberally throughout the evening, interacting with symphony and audience members. His talents as an actor and his vocal diversity took form as he painted the manger scene, telling the Christmas story as an angelic narrator and as each of the "Friendly Beasts." Pointing to the unique gifts individuals can bring to humanity, Stokes presented an enchanting, updated version of "The Little Drummer Boy" led by a 16-year-old drummer from the Youth Symphony. A composer and arranger, Stokes brought his own gift to the Bay Area in the form of an original sing-along titled "Christmas is All About Me." Here, the performer proved once again that he knows how to entertain.

San Francisco Symphony has a few more opportunities for holiday entertainment this month. In addition to Handel's Messiah, the Symphony brings the voice of the Little Mermaid, Jodi Benson, to Davies over the next week for "A Charlie Brown Christmas - Live!" Seth MacFarlane rings in the new year December 31. Find a detailed schedule and ticket information at

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