“Holidays are about family, about friends, fun and hopefully about relaxing,” says Brian Stokes Mitchell, “though they never seem to be that way for me since I am always working too hard.”
Case in point, the Broadway veteran in currently in rehearsals for the upcoming Broadway musical “Shuffle Along” with Audra McDonald and Billy Porter. In between he’s dashing around the country for holiday concerts like the one he’ll perform at Davies Hall this week.
Christmas is actually Mitchell’s third favorite holiday, following Halloween (his birthday) and Thanksgiving, with its focus on family. That hasn’t stopped him from appreciating the rich and varied tradition of Christmas music.
“I was the organist in my church from the time I was 14 years old, so I pretty much know the whole canon and if you mention a carol I can probably sing it and play it. I was also in the annual Christmas pageant, where you’d repurpose a bathrobe into a shepherd’s costume,” he laughs.
Stokes, as he’s known to friends and colleagues, got his first big acting break in San Francisco, sort of, with six seasons as Jackpot Jackson on the City-set “M*A*S*H” spin-off “Trapper John, M.D.” which included exterior scenes shot in the Presidio.
Though he’s kept a hand in film and television — recently as Téa Leoni’s predecessor on “Madam Secretary” and as a corporate manipulator on “Mr. Robot” — his heart belongs to Broadway.
His Tony Award for a 2000 revival of “Kiss Me, Kate” is the centerpiece of a near 30-year Broadway résumé that includes “Ragtime,” “King Hedley II” and “Man of La Mancha.”
Before all of that, young Brian was exposed to lots of different Christmas music growing up. “My dad loved jazz, so we had lots of jazz Christmas albums, and my mom loved Harry Belafonte, so we had him and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir — who I have performed with, including in Christmas concerts, which was a real kick.”
His choice of Christmas music to perform is similar to his choice in Broadway jobs. “They’ve gotta have heart. They’ve gotta tell a story. I loved ‘The Little Drummer Boy’ when I was a kid and then I kinda fell out of love with it because it started to feel like an insipid song.”
In preparing the concert he revisited the childhood favorite and really examined the lyrics. “I realized it was a song about gifts and giving of talents that we have and it took on an whole new level of meaning.” Wrapped in a bright new arrangement, the song will be one of the many gifts Mitchell brings to San Francisco.
IF YOU GO
A Broadway Christmas with Brian Stokes Mitchell
Where: Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Dec.16
Tickets: $15 to $85
Contact: (415) 864-6000, www.sfsymphony.org