Friday, December 16, 2011

concert review "Home For the Holidays", Brian Stokes Mitchell and the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, Dec. 10

Brian Stokes Mitchell
Holiday concerts from Broadway performers can be really good or just so so.  They are either well thought out evenings that encompass the spirit of the holiday season with a few of the performer's more well known Broadway songs expertly added in or they can also be a performer's regular cabaret show with a few holiday carols unceremoniously shoved in.  Fortunately when you combine the talents of Brian Stokes Mitchell and the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra for a holiday concert you end up with a joyous and emotional evening.

Under the superb direction of Constantine Kitsopoulos, the orchestra provided a well played selection of songs that started out with a lovely overture that combined several well known holidays carols.  Brian Stokes Mitchell was then introduced and his joyous, emotional and genuine personality shown through not only the material but the introductions he gave to each song.  His first song, "Some Enchanted Evening " from South Pacific, was one that he expertly wrapped his baritone voice around and sung to the rafters of the NJPAC Prudential Hall.

He followed this with a jazzed up version of "The Christmas Song," a joyous "Sleigh Ride," a touching medley of Hanukkah songs and a lovely version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."  He told a beautiful story about his late mother saying that while she wasn't the greatest singer, she had such passion and joy when she sang that it didn't matter if she didn't hit all the right notes.

His performance of "Wheels of a Dream," from Ragtime, which he originated on Broadway, was also superb.  The first act ended with an impressive version of "The Impossible Dream" from Man of La Mancha.  Stokes starred in the 2002 Broadway revival of the show and this has quickly become one of his signature songs.  We've heard him sing this song several times now and have to say this was the most impressive, which is partly due to the large orchestra accompanying him as well as how he tied the song not only into the evening but also the entire season with one simple sentence when he said that "the holiday season has always been one about dreams."

The second act featured more songs from Stokes and the Symphony Orchestra and the evening also included the Masterwork Chorus who performed "This Christmastide," and the New Jersey Youth Chorus with an emotional version of "Angel Carol."  An extremely touching version of "Little Drummer Boy" featured an emotional drum solo that Stokes played off of as well as partnered with.   After a audience sing along of popular Christmas Carols the evening ended with a special encore that Stokes has done in his previous concerts.  He begins to play and sing the song "Grateful" alone at the piano and then is slowly joined in by his fellow band members.  However, when those band members not only include a full orchestra but an entire choir, it becomes something extra special.  And like his comment that tied "Impossible Dream" to a holiday themed concert, his comment before he sang this song was just as simple and just as touching.  He said that during the holiday season we all have to remember the true meaning of the season and to really remember its about how grateful we are about the simplest of things.

Brian Stokes Mitchell and the NJSO are class acts.   If you get the chance to see them either alone or together, don't pass it by.

Stokes performed a Christmas concert with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir a couple of years ago that featured some of the same songs he sang at the concert with the NJSO.  It was released on cd and dvd- check below for video clips and the Amazon links to order the cd or dvd. 

Stokes singing "The Impossible Dream" -

Stokes and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir perform "Sleigh Ride" -

and "Grateful" -

"Some Enchanted Evening" with Reba McEntire from the South Pacific concert-

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