Brian Stokes Mitchell is a Broadway legend. That means there’s no one better than the Tony Award winner to present the history of the iconic Mormon Tabernacle Choir. He hosts 20 Years of Christmas with the Tabernacle Choir, which premieres December 13 on PBS and December 16 on BYUtv, looking back at the more than two dozen performers that have enchanted audiences over the last two decades.
Not only does 20 Years of Christmas with the Tabernacle Choir feature Brian looking back at all of the wonderful concerts of years past—including visits by fellow Broadway superstars Sutton Foster and Kelli O’Hara, to name but two—it includes new material that he filmed last year with socially distanced Orchestra at Temple Square members and Choir music director Mack Wilberg. The Choir themselves also join Wilberg and Mitchell for the first all-virtual performance in their storied history.
“It almost feels like a second home for me performing out there,” Brian told me in our recent interview. “What was different this time was that they weren’t there. That was the thing that was kind of heart-wrenching when I got out there—to be performing in and walking into this 21,000 seat auditorium, where normally my first entrance into it would be during a rehearsal and the orchestra would be on the stage and the choir would be up there…and there would be a few people in the audience as well, and camera people.
“This time when I walked out there, nobody was there. The lights weren’t even on. It was very, very empty. And I thought, okay, this is going to be a different kind of Christmas show this year.”
Even so Brian, the Orchestra and the Choir are able to put on a wonderful performance that still captures the love of the Christmas season and the incredible ability of everyone involved. Furthermore, the special shines a light on how much goes into every performance and how many remarkable people make it happen. Mitchell is a perfect choice to host—not only because of his long history performing with the Choir, but because of his own warmth and compassion that comes through on screen.
What does he think has made the Mormon Tabernacle Choir a Christmas institution for so long and brought in so much great talent? “What’s special about this show is it just makes you feel so good,” he told me. “It’s music at its highest form, and listening to an orchestra at its highest form. The arrangements at its highest form, the stagecraft at its highest form.
“Everything is done so beautifully, so thoughtfully, so artfully, so carefully, and all with end in mind, which is to create something beautiful and to fill people with a great spirit. To make them feel happy, and to make them feel love, and to make them feel connected—all of the best things that we think about when we think about what the holidays are,” he continued. “That’s what that concert is. That’s the purpose for it. And everybody is working towards that goal.”
20 Years of Christmas with the Tabernacle Choir also enables fans to see not just Brian Stokes Mitchell the entertainer, but also Brian Stokes Mitchell the host. The special showcases his great hosting ability. He’s not only someone we gravitate towards to watch and listen to, but someone who connects with the people and brings a different perspective than most because he is a performer. He doesn’t just recite generic introductions between segments; he brings his wonderful personality and real insight.
That’s also on display in Crossovers Live!, his current talk show that wraps with a Christmas special later this month. Every episode features Brian interviewing someone else who’s made the successful move from stage to screen and been able to sustain a crossover career. It’s a cut above similar programs specifically because of the host. I asked Brian if he’s been more reflective about his own career after getting other people to share their stories.
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