The Tony Award-winning leading man sang a selection of holiday favorites old and new, with the New York Philarmonic Orchestra under the direction of Broadway's own Ted Sperling. Mitchell was clearly happy to be making his Philharmonic debut, and the packed crowd on Dec. 20 offered him a warm and loud welcome.
The evening started with a grandly symphonic, carol-filled "Christmas Overture" by Nigel Hess. Mitchell opened with a buoyant rendition of Jerry Herman's "We Need a Little Christmas," which turned out to be the sole show tune of the evening. Next came the old chestnut "A Christmas Song," Mel Tormé and Bob Wells' standard about those nuts roasting on an open fire, combined with a new song called "A Crazy Christmas," written by Mitchell himself.
"You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" (by Albert Hague and Theodor Geisel [AKA Dr. Seuss]) followed. Mitchell growled it out in a jazzy, Grinchlike fashion while cavorting himself in the manner of an exceedingly droll Fosse snake. Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" was served up as a nostalgic pace changer, followed by the traditional carol "Friendly Beasts," with Mitchell taking the opportunity to sing in the manner of donkey, cow and sheep.
As the Entr'acte, Sperling led the Philharmonic in Émile Waldteufel's "Skater's Waltz," which sounded mighty fine in the hands of the 100-piece orchestra. This led, not unnaturally, into Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride," with Mitchell singing the lyric subsequently added by Mitchell Parrish. Next came Alfred Burt's carol "Some Children See Him." Mitchell then changed pace again, unleashing his inner seven-year-old with a rambunctious song written by himself, "Christmas Is All About Me." This was a thorough crowd pleaser, incorporating an audience sing-along and bringing to mind Danny Kaye's "I'm Five."
This was followed by another new song, Jeff Coella's "Christmas Time." The high spot came with Katherine K. Davis' "Little Drummer Boy," with Mitchell sharing the stage with 18-year-old Gabriel Roxbury on the djembe (an African drum). The song, the singer and the drummer boy transformed the concert into pure Christmas joy. This was countered with a Chanukkah song, the Stephen Schwartz/Steve Young "We Are Lights."
Mitchell, who is an accomplished musician, has mentioned in the past that he had early training in orchestration. In this case he arranged and or orchestrated five of the songs, and impressively so.
PHOTO ARCHIVE: Celebrating Tony Award Winner Brian Stokes Mitchell