broadway star Ashley brown, a native of Gulf Breeze, returns home this Thanksgiving weekend for a holiday show with the Pensacola Symphony Orchestra. “Home for the Holidays featuring Ashley Brown” is Sunday at Pensacola Saenger Theater.
“It’s so heartwarming,” Brown said of returning to the hometown stadium after the pandemic struggles.
“It’s even hard to find the words, after a long year where I haven’t been able to do what I’m doing, not being able to do any live show. Being able to kick off my Christmas concert tour here in my hometown, the city that built me, with all my teachers, dance teachers, singing teachers, the Pensacola Children’s Chorus and the Pensacola Symphony, of course. I couldn’t think of a better way to start again in real life.
Over the years, Brown has played at home with the PSO a few times. For this show, she will be accompanied by the orchestra and some of her friends.
“For those who know my career path, I grew up at Gulf Breeze and danced in Pensacola and took my singing lessons in Pensacola and got to play Belle in ‘The beauty and the Beast.’ I created the role of Mary poppins on Broadway, and along the way, I met one of my best friends, Josh Strickland, who was the first Tarzan on Broadway, ”she said of their story. “I know we’re basically a traveling musical.”
Brown says Strickland, who is one of her dearest friends and has one of the most amazing voices, will join her for a few songs. The conductor of the orchestra will be Brad Haak, who was musical director of “Mary Poppins “ on Broadway. And, the alum will be joined on stage by the Pensacola Children’s Choir.
According to Brown, this holiday concert, “Home for the holidays”, Will include some traditional tunes, some old favorites and some new songs.
“I do ‘The First Noel,’ the Faith Hill and Josh Groban duo, Josh and I do. I do a lot of songs from my Christmas album. I do the holiday medley, which includes the song we all love to hate, Mariah Carey’s song, “All I Want for Christmas”. There’s a little Dolly Parton in the medley and we’re making a lot of meaningful moments along the way.
Brown also plans to take advantage of the timing of the gig and the fact that she and Strickland have a Disney connection to Broadway.
“It’s November 28; I think we can get away with Disney tunes as well, ”Brown said, teasing a few surprises.
Among the holiday songs to perform are two from Brown’s Christmas album, which she says are super special.
“Oh Holy Night” was one of her very first solos, when she started singing in church as a child here at Gulf Breeze.
“It’s a song that means so much to me because of that and because of the meaning of the song, of course. I just feel like it’s one of those songs that everyone loves and it makes you feel things. It’s nostalgia and the melody is beautiful. I love this song and just have to do it every year or it doesn’t sound like Christmas, ”she said.
Another song from Brown’s Christmas album is “Winter Wonderland”, which will feature a slightly faster beat.
“I don’t want to reinvent the wheel because there’s a reason we love music the way it is. But, I definitely take the tempo and give it an Ella Fitzgerald twist, because Christmas carols can get slow and feel like ballads. So, I like to keep my shows pretty upbeat, so we kind of win the moment of calm and peace.
Sunday’s concert at the Pensacola Saenger Theater will close Thanksgiving weekend. But, Brown will only begin.
“There’s a lot going on and I’m very grateful because last year around this time there wasn’t a lot going on. And it was pretty crazy, ”she admitted.
“I know we have all battled the pandemic, so I don’t pretend to be the only one affected at all. You know, I’ve never been able to do what I do in my life, so I’m so grateful that it’s all starting up again.
Brown noted that this next show at Pensacola is the one she made her Carnegie Hall debut with the New York Pops, which she said was a dream come true.
She has a few other concerts planned for the holiday season.
“So I’m going to bring this show to Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Naples and I’m excited. So it’s Christmas.
Brown is also playing a new show in New York called “Mad Season,” which she hopes will hit the stage soon.
So, does she have any chance of returning to Broadway soon?
“You know, Broadway just restarted and it’s just getting back on its feet. But I absolutely want to be back on Broadway, but I’m waiting for that perfect vehicle and my time, ”she proclaimed.
For now, she says she really enjoys concerts because she can just be on stage herself.
“Because I can just be Ashley Brown. I can sing like me. I can speak like me and stand in front of a great symphony.
And, she’ll just be Ashley Brown on stage at Pensacola this weekend, and that’ll be more than enough.
“Thank you very much. We are so excited,” she said of this one night only performance.
The Pensacola Symphony Orchestra’s “Vacation Home with Ashley Brown” is Sunday from 3 pm to 7 pm at the Pensacola Saenger Theater. More information and tickets available at Pensacola Symphony Orchestra website.