The Music Center at Strathmore was filled with the holiday spirit as the Tony Award-winning Broadway superstar Brian Stokes Mitchell joined Conductor Damon Gupton and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra SuperPops for a joyous celebration of the music and memories of the season of goodwill. This is a particularly exciting time to experience the BSO in concert, since the orchestra will be celebrating its 100th anniversary next year. The BSO has been performing at Strathmore since 2005 and currently presents 35 concerts a year in what is considered its “second home.”
As we could tell from the first note, Maestro Gupton’s conducting credits are extremely impressive. He has been the Assistant Conductor of the Kansas City Symphony and has made numerous conducting appearances across the country and abroad. He is also a winner of the International Eduardo Mata conducting competition in Mexico City. A graduate of the Drama Division of the Julliard School, Gupton is also an accomplished actor on Broadway, in films, and on television.
Brian Stokes Mitchell’s theatre credits are too numerous to mention here, but he won The Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical. We were privileged to see that unforgettable performance so many years ago and we are thrilled to report that Mitchell is as brilliant as ever in 2015. He has also turned in spectacular performances in Jelly’s Last Jam, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Ragtime, and Man of La Mancha—just to name a few. And, in our own backyard, Mitchell played the title role in the 2002 Kennedy Center Sondheim Festival production of Sweeney Todd.
Mitchell is not only a force of nature on Broadway, but is also well known for his numerous television roles, including Dr. Frasier Crane’s upstairs neighbor and nemesis, Cam Winston, on Frasier, as well as appearances on Glee, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Ugly Betty. The older ones among us will remember Mitchell’s seven-year stint as Dr. “Jackpot” Jackson on Trapper John, MD and his role as John Dolan in Roots: The Next Generations.
As he took the stage at Strathmore, Mitchell demonstrated his phenomenal versatility as an actor, singer, and storyteller and served up a generous helping of sweet holiday treats. His rich and powerful baritone voice sent chills up our spines as we were totally enveloped by the music. It might sound strange to describe a singer at a Christmas concert as “sexy,” but in this case, that is the mot juste. In fact, the New York Times designated Mitchell as “the last leading man.”
This spectacular vocalist stopped the show and brought tears to our eyes with his wistful and soulful rendition of “I’ll be Home for Christmas” as we remembered all the people who can’t be with their loved ones during the holiday season, especially the courageous men and women serving in the armed forces around the world.
In a similar way, Mitchell evoked the idea of being with a special someone during the holiday season as he crooned the lovely and sentimental ballad “What are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”
The orchestra set the tone for the evening with “A Christmas Festival”—a dazzling medley of familiar Christmas songs by the iconic Leroy Anderson. Mitchell followed up with the equally iconic “Sleigh Ride” which was also composed by Anderson. The piece has become a Christmas season “pops” standard, even though it was not originally intended to be a Christmas song. Mitchell did a superb job with the familiar and fun lyrics, and the orchestra provided impeccable sound effects and pristine rhythms for this perennial favorite. Because both the conductor and the vocalist have Broadway credentials, it was especially appropriate to include “We Need a Little Christmas” from Jerry Herman’s Mame.
Much of the program was a study in contrasts. Mitchell was outrageous and hilarious as he performed “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” complete with funny voices and pantomime, and then turned to a beautiful rendition of “The Christmas Song.” The orchestra started a traditional version of “The March of the Wooden Soldiers” from The Nutcracker Suite but then stopped and proceeded to an exciting jazz version, “The Peanut Brittle Brigade” by Duke Ellington. Mitchell’s expert vocal dynamics were displayed in “The Friendly Beasts,” which started out quietly and reverently, then moved on to loud voices of several different animals, then ended with barely a whisper.
A two-minute standing ovation greeted Mitchell, the orchestra, a young boy from the BSO’s youth music education program, as they flawlessly performed “The Little Drummer Boy.” The orchestra also received a standing ovation as they concluded the evening with a rousing march version of “Jingle Bells.”
BSO: ‘Tis the Season with Brian Stokes Mitchell was a transcendent combination of musical perfection, warmth and good feeling, and just plain holiday fun–which we will remember for years to come.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 10 minutes, with one 20-minute intermission.
BSO: ‘Tis the Season with Brian Stokes Mitchell was performed for one night only on December 10, 2015 at The Music Center at Strathmore – 5301 Tuckerman Lane, in North Bethesda, MD. For information on future performances at Strathmore, visit their calendar of events.