Chris Mann’s favorite Yuletide song is “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” so much so that the last three words are the title of his 2013 holiday album.
So when Mann returns home next weekend, for a gala holiday production presented by Wichita Grand Opera, it will almost bring the song’s lyrics to fruition.
“I absolutely love that song,” Mann said in a phone interview from his Los Angeles home. “Even though I won’t be home for Christmas, being back in Wichita will be the closest I’ve been to Christmastime in like six years. That’ll be kind of cool.”
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So in between a busy 2017 and what promises to be an even busier 2018, the 35-year-old will soak in family time – bringing along his wife, Laura, and 3-month-old son, Hugo – and return to the stage of the Century II concert hall.
While past years have seen Mann, who finished fourth on NBC’s talent competition “The Voice” in 2012, ensconced in a holiday tour, this time his only Christmas show is in Wichita.
“It’s gonna be like a big concert, and I’m very much excited about that,” he said. “This has got all sorts of bells and whistles and extras.”
Indeed, besides Mann, backed by a 50-piece orchestra, the performance includes the Wichita Grand Opera Chorus, Rose Hill High School singers, Wichita Community Children’s Choir, soprano Kaitlyn Costello (a WGO young artist product) and conductor Steven Mercurio (also playing the electric guitar), who has led orchestras for holiday tours and concerts from the likes of Andrea Bocelli, Celine Dion, Josh Groban, David Foster and Sting.
The album “Home for Christmas” was produced by Walter Afanasieff, who co-wrote Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You,” and has produced holiday albums for Kenny G, Idina Menzel, Kristin Chenoweth and Carey.
“He’s sort of an orchestral genius,” Mann said of the producer who has worked on non-holiday albums of Barbra Streisand, Santana and Destiny’s Child. “I started at the top, in terms of making Christmas records with the best.”
Besides some of the standards, the concert is scheduled to include the Motown holiday song “Christmas Baby (Please Come Home),” Costello on “Santa Baby,” Mann with the “Les MIserables” ballad “Bring Him Home” and the Michael W. Smith song “All is Well.” Mann and Costello will perform the Bocelli-Dion duet “The Prayer,” which Mann recorded with his “Voice” coach Christina Aguilera in 2012.
Mann says he has a few pangs missing the holiday tour that was a staple of his performances for five years.
“It’s sort of this reoccurring gift for me that I get to have this opportunity to go around the country during this time of year and perform some of these really great Christmas songs,” he said. “I’m lucky enough to be the type of artist and singer that gets called on to sing these types of songs. There are other people like that in the world, but I’m glad to be on the short list of people that have that chance.”
It’s the Wichita Grand Opera’s first Christmas gala in 15 years, since Placido Domingo entertained in 2002.
“It’s a big undertaking,” company artistic director Parvan Bakardiev said. “The guy is skyrocketing in every aspect.”
Bakardiev said the concert would help illuminate the company that was founded 17 years ago by Margaret Ann Pent, whom he succeeded as artistic director.
“It’s exciting and it’s the Christmas spirit,” Bakardiev said of the production.
Bakardiev is equally excited about the return of Mercurio, who has led the opera’s orchestra several times. Mercurio has conducted the Vienna Symphony Orchestra for several years in PBS specials hosted by Walter Cronkite.
“He invented the Christmas from Vienna, so to speak,” Bakardiev said of Mercurio.
While already having two years under his belt and more than 700 performances as the title role in the touring production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera,” and a singing role – although not seen – in Fox’s musical TV version of “A Christmas Carol” later this month, Mann expects next year to be even bigger.
He recently signed on for a six-month gig at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas with four other stars from the talent competition for “The Voice: Neon Dreams,” scheduled for eight performances a week in a newly built, $12-million, in-the-round arena.
“I’m excited about it,” Mann said. “As the Phantom, I’ve had to stand and sing these dark, torch ballads. This is a Vegas show. I get to do it in the round. It’s fiery, it’s loud and it’s kind of the opposite of what I’ve done in the past.”
Mann also is excited about his third album, “Urban Songbook,” which will be released next year after recording for nine months in 2017. He’s taken classic songs and put them to modern arrangements.
“What I’ve become known for is this really ballad-heavy interpretations of songs. But I also love urban music, R&B. People who knew me before ‘The Voice’ know that I did pop records more so than I made these beautiful legit-pop records,” Mann said.
“I wanted to get back to what I was doing before, taking these standards and putting these urban, R&B spins on them in the production, along with originals I’ve written here in Los Angeles,” he added. “I’ve tried them out on the road, and they’re really fun and sexy and different from what I’ve been known to do since I was on ‘The Voice.’”
The singing competition “did change everything for me” in his career, Mann said. But it also let him take more chances and evolve as a performer.
“It gave me a jumping-off point and an adrenaline boost and a confidence boost to go out into the world and keep running,” he said. “I am one of the fortunate few that’s been able to keep running successfully after being on this show.”
Returning to the Century II stage, he said, is especially a thrill because it brings him back to his two years of summer musicals with Music Theatre Wichita.
“It all really started in Wichita with Wayne Bryan and Music Theatre Wichita,” Mann said. “I continue to run into people in the professional world who have run through his doors. I still remember every second of it. It was so much fun. I don’t undervalue it, but I forget how many lessons I’ve learned from being an intern and a company member at Music Theatre Wichita.
“Now that I’m doing it for real, how lucky are we in Wichita to have that there?”
‘CHRIS MANN: HOME FOR CHRISTMAS’
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9
Where: Century II concert hall, 225 W. Douglas
What: Wichita Grand Opera presents Wichita native and “The Voice” veteran in a concert that includes a 50-piece orchestra and chorus, conducted by Steven Mercurio; soprano Kaitlyn Costello; the Rose Hill High School Choir; Wichita Community Children’s Choir; and The Studio
Tickets: $85, $58 and $37, with senior, student and group rates available; tickets are available at Century II, by phone at the WGO box office at 262-8054 and online at selectaseat.com