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Home For the Holidays featuring Ashley Brown

Photo courtesy of Ashley Brown

Broadway star Ashley Brown, a native of Gulf Breeze, is returning home this Thanksgiving weekend for a holiday performance with the Pensacola Symphony Orchestra. “Home for the Holidays featuring Ashley Brown” is Sunday at the Pensacola Saenger Theatre.

“It’s so heartwarming,” Brown said about returning to the hometown stage after the difficulties of the pandemic.

“It’s hard to even find the words, after this long year of me not being able to do what I do, not being able to do any live performing whatsoever. To be able to kick off my Christmas concert tour here in my hometown, the town that built me, with all my teachers, my dance teachers, my voice teachers, the Pensacola Children’s Chorus and the Pensacola Symphony, of course. I couldn’t think of a better way to kind of kick-start back into real life.”

Over the years, Brown has performed at home with the PSO a few times. For this show, she’ll be accompanied by the orchestra and a few of her friends.

“For those that know my career path, I grew up in Gulf Breeze and danced in Pensacola and took my voice lessons in Pensacola and was able to star as Belle in 'Beauty and the Beast.' I originated the role of Mary Poppins on Broadway, and along the way, I met one of my best friends, Josh Strickland, who was the original Tarzan on Broadway,” she said of their history. “I know we’re basically a walking musical.”

Brown says Strickland, who’s one of her dearest friends and has one of the most amazing voices, will join her for a few songs. Conducting the orchestra will be Brad Haak, who served as a musical director for "Mary Poppins" on Broadway. And, the alum will be joined on stage by the Pensacola Children’s Chorus.

According to Brown, this holiday concert, “Home for the Holidays,” will include some traditional tunes, a few old favorites, and some new songs.

“I’m doing 'The First Noel,' the Faith Hill and Josh Groban duet, Josh and I are doing. I’m doing a lot of songs from my Christmas album. I’m doing the holiday hits medley, which includes the song we all love to hate, the Mariah Carey song, 'All I Want for Christmas.' There’s a little Dolly Parton in the medley and we’re doing a lot of meaningful moments along the way.

Brown also plans to take advantage of the timing of the concert and the fact that she and Strickland have a Disney on Broadway connection.

“It’s Nov. 28; I think we can get away with doing some Disney tunes as well,” Brown said, teasing a few surprises.

Among the holiday songs to be performed are two from Brown’s Christmas album, that she says are super special.

“Oh Holy Night” was one of her very first solos, when she started singing in church as a kid here in Gulf Breeze.

“It’s a song that just means so much to me because of that and because of the meaning of the song, of course. I just feel it’s one of those songs that everybody loves and it just makes you feel things. It’s nostalgia and the melody is beautiful. I just adore that song and I just have to do it every year or it doesn’t feel like Christmas,” she said.

Another song from Brown’s Christmas album is “Winter Wonderland,” which will feature a little faster pace.

“I don’t want to reinvent the wheel, because there’s a reason we love the music the way it is. But, I definitely kind of pick up the tempo and give it an Ella Fitzgerald spin, because Christmas songs can get slow and like ballads. So, I like to keep my shows pretty upbeat, so we kind of earn the moment of quiet and peace.”

Sunday’s concert at the Pensacola Saenger Theatre will wrap up Thanksgiving weekend. But, Brown will just be getting started.

“There’s a lot going on and I’m so thankful, because last year at this time, there was not a lot going on. And, it was quite crazy,” she acknowledged.

“I know we all struggled with the pandemic, so I’m not pretending I’m the only one that was affected at all. You know, I’ve just never in my life have not been able to do what I do, so I’m so thankful that it’s all picking up.”

Brown noted that this upcoming show in Pensacola is the one she debuted at Carnegie Hall with the New York Pops, which she says was a dream come true.

She has a few more concerts planned for the holiday season.

“So, I’ll be taking this show to Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and to Naples and I’m excited. Then it’s Christmas.”

Brown is also doing a reading of a new show in New York City called “Mad Season,” which she hopes will soon make its way to the stage.

So, any chance she’ll be back on Broadway soon?

“You know, Broadway’s just starting back up 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 for my time,” she proclaimed.

For now, she says she’s really enjoying the concerts, because she can just be herself on stage.

“Because I can just be Ashley Brown. I can sing like me. I can talk like me and stand in front of a big symphony.”

And, she will just be Ashley Brown on stage in Pensacola this weekend, and that will be more than enough.

“Thank you, so much. We’re so excited,” she said of this one-night-only performance.

The Pensacola Symphony Orchestra’s “Home for the Holidays featuring Ashley Brown,” is Sunday, 3-7 p.m. at the Pensacola Saenger Theatre. More information and tickets available at the Pensacola Symphony Orchestra website.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.