When Brian Stokes Mitchell returned home to New York from Salt Lake City after performing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in September, everyone asked him what it was like."I told them it was one of the best musical experiences in my life," he said of the Tanner Gift of Music concert. "I had a great time there."Speaking with the Deseret News by phone from San Diego, where he was spending Thanksgiving with family and close friends, Mitchell (or Stokes, as friends and colleagues call him) had nothing but praise for the choir. "It's the best in the world. It's spectacular, both individually and collectively."This week, Mitchell will pick up where he left off in September when he returns to Salt Lake City as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's guest vocalist for this year's Christmas program, "Ring Christmas Bells."Also appearing are Emmy and Tony Award-winning actor Edward Herrmann, the Bells on Temple Square and the Orchestra at Temple Square, conducted by Mack Wilberg. Performances are Thursday through Saturday, Dec. 11-13, with an abbreviated performance immediately following the "Music and the Spoken Word" broadcast on Sunday, Dec. 14."We can really have some fun this time," Mitchell said about the Christmas concerts. "I'm really looking forward to it."He said that when he was here in the fall, he and Wilberg, whom he called "a kindred spirit," had a chance to get acquainted. "We felt each other out and discovered that we feel music in the same way. I'm glad that he's at the helm running the show."Doing some Christmas songs in new arrangements by Wilberg has excited Mitchell. "He is a phenomenal arranger," Mitchell said. "Without giving anything away — I don't want to spoil it before the show — there is one song in particular that Mack did an incredible arrangement with. I think people will love it."In preparing for the concerts the past few months, Mitchell has gotten to know Wilberg's talents. And while he admires his arrangements, Mitchell is also impressed with Wilberg's orchestrations. "He orchestrates emotionally. They are beautifully thought out."There is only one other composer who is in the same category, Mitchell added. "That's John Williams. He understands the orchestra and he sees the big picture. And Mack is the same way."Mitchell knows what he's talking about. He has worked with a wide array of composers, arrangers and music directors in a career that has spanned three decades. The 51-year-old singer/actor has starred in a number of Broadway productions, including "Jelly's Last Jam," "Kiss of the Spider Woman," "Ragtime," "Kiss Me, Kate" and "Man of La Mancha." He won the 1999 Tony Award for best actor in a musical for "Kiss Me, Kate," and he was nominated for a Tony for best actor for "Ragtime," "Man of La Mancha" and "King Hedley II."Away from the stage, Mitchell has several film and television credits. He was in the cast of "Trapper John, M.D." as Dr. Justin "Jackpot" Jackson, and he has had guest appearances on "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," where he played Trevor, and on "Frasier" as Cam Winston.But despite his reputation as "the last leading man," as the New York Times once dubbed him, Mitchell is refreshingly unpretentious. He doesn't see himself as the star of the show. "What I do is a collaborative art," he said. "Painters and writers are solo artists. I collaborate. It takes a lot of people working together — composers, arrangers, musicians — for me to go onstage. That's why I'm looking forward to returning and collaborating with Mack and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir."

If you go ...What: "Ring Christmas Bells" with Brian Stokes Mitchell, Edward Herrmann, Mack Wilberg, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple SquareWhere: LDS Conference CenterWhen: Dec. 11, 8 p.m.; Dec. 12-13, 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 14, 9 a.m.How much: Free but tickets required (only standby seating is available)Phone: 570-0080 or 866-537-8457Web: www.lds.org/events

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