The year 2019 has dawned as a different sort for many reasons, and not all good ones. But this year, the annual “Let Freedom Ring” concert, presented by Georgetown University in partnership with the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, is taking a new approach to the talent slated to perform with the Let Freedom Ring Choir, celebrating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the annual holiday program.
This year, two performers usually associated with theater, Audra McDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell, will share the marquee to present a new incarnation of the musical tribute to King. The two African-American luminaries are considered among the finest in musical theater currently performing.
McDonald is a multiple award winner for her roles in theatrical performances from “Carousel” to “Master Class.” As the youngest recipient of three Tony Awards before the age of 30, she also has a dedication to African-American theater and music. Her legacy has been compared to that of Judy Garland and Barbara Streisand.
In 2004, she won a Tony for her role in “A Raisin in the Sun” and went on to reprise the performance in the made-for-television version with Sean “Diddy” Combs. She also received critical acclaim for her solo performance in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” adapted from the Broadway play for HBO.
She has also played major African-American characters in “Porgy and Bess” and was instrumental in reviving the Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake 1921 musical revue, “Shuffle Along,” which she had to withdraw from performing to take an unexpected maternity leave.
“Maybe it is because my uncle and my parents were always very involved with the civil rghts movement, so I just grew up and I was raised that you have to speak out and look out for your fellow man, woman and child,” McDonald said.
It is no coincidence that she will perform with Brian Stokes Mitchell, her frequent co-star who has played alongside her in “Shuffle Along” and also the Broadway version of “Ragtime,” where Mitchell took on the role of protagonist Coalhouse Walker.
Dubbed the “Last Leading Man” by the New York Times, Mitchell’s resume on Broadway and beyond is nearly unmatched by any performer, regardless of race.
Mitchell recently took the stage at Carnegie Hall for his solo debut, despite his long history in theater. The sold-out event where he performed with a 42-piece orchestra conducted by Paul Gemignani, saw him joined by some of his past leading ladies including Reba McEntire, Heather Headley and Phylicia Rashad.
Mitchell is best known for his work on the Broadway stage, where he has received impressive accolades, including Broadway’s highest honor, the Tony Award. Mitchell appeared most recently on Broadway in the revival of “Man of La Mancha,” portraying the dual roles of Cervantes and Don Quixote and earning a Tony nomination and a Helen Hayes Award for his work.
The pair will perform part of the concert with the Let Freedom Ring Choir, created in 2006 for the King Day celebration. The choir, made up of local church choir singers and students from Georgetown University, is directed by Rev. Nolan Williams Jr., a local musician and scholar whose resume includes minister of music for Metropolitan Baptist Church and chief music editor of the critically acclaimed “The African American Heritage Hymnal.”
The concert also includes the annual bestowal of a humanitarian award to a community activist who has played a significant role in the betterment of life through the lens of King’s legendary work.
The yearly concert, held on the King holiday, is free and open to the public, with tickets to the concert being distributed onsite at the Kennedy Center’s Hall of Nations beginning at 4:30 p.m. on Jan. 21.