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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Brian Stokes Mitchell says working with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was "delightful."

It was a good thing that Brian Stokes Mitchell had already sung with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir at the Tanner Gift of Music concert.

"That way, I wasn't in a state of shock when I stepped out on the stage with those 360 voices behind me," he said of the 2008 Christmas concert.

"I already knew it would be delightful, and it was even more so. It was a blast the first time, and the second time was only better."

Mitchell returned to Salt Lake City last week for media appearances related to the PBS airing of the Christmas concert this year and to sign copies of the CD and DVD, "Ring Christmas Bells." They went on sale this holiday season.

"It was all so great," he said of his Christmas experience. "I loved every part of it. I loved the concert. I loved the rehearsals. I loved the arrangements. I loved working with Mack (Wilberg). I loved the whole process. It was a lot of hard work. It took a lot of time, but I liked that, too. There was not a downside to any of it."

He is thrilled with the way both the CD and DVD turned out. "People ask me which one to buy, and I tell them both. You need the DVD to get the full impact of the concert, to hear Ed Herrmann, to appreciate the nuances. But you need the CD to listen over and over in your car."

His songs on the CD include "The Friendly Beasts," which was such fun to sing, he said. "It's a song I've always loved, and Mack said it was one he's loved. But it's usually all done in the same key. We started talking about ways to vary it. I've done some animation voice-overs, so doing the cow with a low voice and the dove with a high voice seemed like a natural."

He was also happy to be able to sing his own "New Words."

"That was a Christmas gift for my wife. Our son was supposed to have been born on Christmas Day, but he came early. On his first birthday, I took him into the studio and recorded him saying his first words. So, to me that's a Christmas song. Christmas is such a family time."

Mitchell also has a new children's book out called "Lights on Broadway," which provides an A-to-Z look at the world of theater, including quotes from actors and a CD of him singing "I Was Here."

"I say it is for kids from 8 to 80," he joked. "It was a blast to design. And all the proceeds got to the Actor's Fund, which I've been president of the past five years." The fund is designed to help people in the entertainment industry in times of personal or family crisis.

Another book Mitchell is proud of being a part of is one called "I'm The Greatest Star," by Robert Viagas, which contains brief biographies of "Broadway's Top Musical Legends from 1900 to Today."

"There I am, with the likes of Fred Astaire and Ethyl Merman. What an honor!" he said.

Dubbed "The Last Leading Man" by the New York Times, Mitchell has had a long and rich career, not only on Broadway, but also in television, film and with appearances in America's great concert halls.

It's not what he imagined ever happening to him when he started taking piano lessons at age 6, and studying theater at age 14, and singing — well, "I can't remember ever not singing."

But, he said, "I kind of feel the career chose me. My motto has always been: 'Go where I'm wanted.' "

First, theater in San Diego wanted him. Then, television. "The first audition I did was for 'Trapper John, M.D.' I was surprised to get the part, and then to have it last for seven years was a bonus."

Then, he was wanted for voice-overs for animated films. Then, theater gave him a call. "I started in a little play called 'Mail.' It ran for a year-and-a-half in Pasadena, moved to the Kennedy Center and then to Broadway, where it only lasted two months."

But Mitchell won a Theater World Award for it, which "is actually my favorite of all the awards I've won. It was like Broadway telling me welcome."

Since then, he's had four Tony nominations and won one for "Kiss Me Kate." And that has led to another of his life's mottos: "You lose more than you win in life, and that's OK. That's the nature of life."

Along the way, he also picked up another life lesson: Be the nice guy. "I learned that from Chita Rivera. I first worked with her when I was one of the second leads, and she greeted me with open arms. I noticed that she knew the names of everyone from the stars to the janitors. She trusted everyone to do their job and be good, and so everyone did. I think, 'Why be any other way?' I've worked with those who are fun, and those who aren't fun and pleasant to work with. There's more longevity for those who are pleasant."

There's another philosophy that Mitchell lives by, as well: We need the arts.

As he's gotten more involved in his career, "I feel like I've become something of an ambassador for arts. Sometimes people say to me, 'Why should I support the arts, why don't you get a real job?' "

But stop and look around you, he advised. "Everything you enjoy has been done by artists, from the pictures on the wall, to the building, to the iPod and its music. All the beauty in our lives was created by artists. All the magic is created by artists. Without art, where would we be?"

Sometimes art is so ubiquitous that we don't fully appreciate it, he said. "But what gives us the beauty in our lives, what gives us the joy in our lives — that's art."

And those who create art have to do what they do. Bach, Rodin, Picasso. They all had to do what they did, he said. The passion is real. "Creating art is like breathing. Making a living at it is the icing on the cake."

It's a collaborative relationship with those who appreciate it, he said. "It's a symbiotic relationship we have to share. Without it, there is no art, there is no Bach, there is no Mormon Tabernacle Choir."

e-mail: carma@desnews.com