Brian Stokes Mitchell Rings in the Holiday Season with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
The invasion of the incomparable Tony-winning actor, singer, composer, arranger, pianist - Brian Stokes Mitchell, to the Baltimore/Washington area is underway. It began with an incredible matinee performance with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Damon Gupton. It continues Thursday night, Dec. 10, 2015 at the Music Center at Strathmore in Rockville. Then, it's back to the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore for two concerts on Friday Dec. 11 (2 and 8 p.m.), two concerts on Saturday (2 and 8 p.m.) and finally on Sunday afternoon, December 13, 2015. That's seven concerts in five days. You therefore have NO excuse for missing this thoroughly entertaining performer perform with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra as he celebrates the holiday season.
If you don't attend, you will miss one the best concerts of the year.
OK...let me start with my love affair with this incredible performer. I've seen Mitchell five times on Broadway (RAGTIME, MAN OF LA MANCHA, KING HEDLEY II, KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN, and ON THE VERGE), at Wolf Trap, at the Kennedy Center, and at a fund-raiser for Center Stage. Look for him next season returning to Broadway with Audra McDonald in SHUFFLE ALONG, the Eubie Blake musical from 1921 which led to the integration of theaters. It also stars Billy Porter, is directed by George Wolfe, and has choreography by Savion Glover. Previews at the Music Box begin March 15, 2016 with the official opening on April 21.
In the meantime, you have an opportunity to be mesmerized by Mitchell in an unforgettable performance.
Guest Conductor Damon Gupton was obviously in sheer heaven directing the BSO. Gupton previously was Assistant Conductor of the Kansas City Symphony and studied with former BSO Conductor David Zinman. But I was shocked to see he's an accomplished actor appearing on Broadway in such hits as CLYBOURNE PARK, SUPERIOR DONUTS, and AN AMERICAN DAUGHTER. He also has numerous television and film credits.
He opened the concert with "A Christmas Festival" arranged by the great Leroy Anderson (many years with the Boston Pops). It was a potpourri of Christmas hits including "Joy to the World", "Deck the Halls", "Hark the Angels Sing", "Silent Night", "Jingle Bells", and finished with the majestic and powerful "Oh Come All You Faithful".
Mitchell then appeared in a slim silver suit, white shirt, and red tie and immediately sang a number from MAME, "We Need a Little Christmas". This was followed by another Leroy Anderson special, "Sleight Ride". Mitchell then sang and arranged "A Crazy Christmas List/The Christmas Song".
"Stokes" (as he is known) complained about shopping for gifts. But to put him in the holiday mood, he heads to a mirror and sings his "favorite" Christmas song....and what a surprise this was..."You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" from the cartoon, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas". Using his deep tenor voice, he delighted the audience with his hysterical facial expressions and dance moves.
The BSO presented a haunting version of the "Coventry Carol" which finished with the cellos and basses using their pizzicato technique.
Mitchell returned to the stage with a humorous rendition of "The Friendly Beats" in which he portrayed animals such as a donkey, a cow, a sheep, and a dove.
He then described being brought up overseas since his father was in the Navy. He mentioned his time in Guam and the Philippines. He spoke proudly of his family tradition of bringing in servicemen during the Vietnam War. He then dedicated "I'll Be Home For Christmas" to all the veterans and servicemen in the audience.
Many of you may know BSM's voice could be heard on the soundtrack of the Dreamworks' Cartoon, "Prince of Egypt". It was a thrill to watching him sing the classic "Through Heaven's Eyes" written by Stephen Schwartz. He even went into a "Tevye" style dance to the Semitic melody.
After a 25 minute intermission (photos with Santa available for $10), the BSO was superb in their rendition of "Troika " from the "Lt. Kije Suite, opus 60" by Sergei Prokofiev (from the 1933 film of the same name).
Mitchell returned and nailed "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas".
He then wanted to know what the audience thought of the presidential candidates. After a lot of laughter, he asked, "What were they like as children?"
Mitchell wrote the hysterical "Christmas Is". The main lyric is "What is Christmas About??? ME!!!! There was great audience participation.
"Stokes" talked about being a father (he as a 12 year-old son). He sang the meaningful "Some Children See Him" by Alfred Burt (arranged and orchestrated by Mitchell).
The BSO then began Tchaikovsky 's "Nutcracker Suite". But Conductor stopped the musicians and said "Something's Not Right. Let's try again." What followed was a brilliant rendition of the "Peanut Brittle Brigade" from "The Nutcracker Suite by Edward "Duke" Ellington. There were terrific solos from Rob Patterson on Clarinet, Dave Rybcznski on Saxophone, Rene Hernandez on Trumpet, and brought in from New York City on the drum set was the amazing Paul Pizzuti.
The highlight of the evening could be the classic "The Little Drummer Boy" but with a surprise soloist. Baltimore Symphony Music Director Marin Alsop is well-known for her wonderful program "Orch Kids" which brings music into Baltimore elementary schools. Mitchell introduced BSO Percussionist Brian Prechtl who spoke about the success of the program which is now reaching 1,000 students in six Baltimore schools. Prechtl introduced his student Andre Palmer who played along with his large drum while Mitchell sang. It was evident Palmer was a little shy at first but then he burst into a big grin as he was playing. It was a highlight of the concert.
One of Mitchell's signature songs is "Grateful" by John Bucchino. He started on the piano at first and then let BSO keyboard player Lura Johnson take over as he sat next to her on the piano bench.
The standing ovation soon led to the expected encore "What are You Doing on New Year's Eve" by the great Frank Loesser. Mitchell even played the Melodica.
After the standing ovation, the BSO played "Jingle Bells".
Mitchell is the consummate performer and marveled about the fact that there was only one rehearsal he had with the BSO. Finally, he added that the audience and him were in the middle of an "oasis of joy". How true.
For tickets, call 410-783-8000 or visit www.bsomusic.org.