Q&A with Kevin Cole on his upcoming special, 'Cole in your Stocking,' at the State Theatre

World-renowned pianist, award-winning musical director, arranger, composer, vocalist, archivist, and Bay City native Kevin Cole will be delighting concertgoers once again at the State Theatre on Fri., Dec. 9 and Sat., Dec. 10 in Downtown Bay City.

Cole has received praise from the likes of Irving Berlin, Harold Arlen, E.Y. Harburg, Hugh Martin, Burton Lane, Marvin Hamlisch, Stephen Sondheim and members of the Jerome Kern and Gershwin families.

Cole has previous experiences working as a vocal arranger/accompanist for pop, musical theatre, and opera performers such as Dawn Upshaw, Sylvia McNair, Karen Morrow, John Lithgow, Christine Andreas and many others.

Tickets are available now for performances on Fri., Dec. 9 and Sat., Dec. 10.Outside of performances, Cole has taught Master Classes at the Interlochen Center for the Arts and North Carolina School of the Arts in musical theatre vocal performance, and served as Musical Director for Pasadena Playhouse, Michigan Ensemble Theatre, San Francisco Shakespeare Festival, Royal George Theatre, and the New York Musical Theatre Festival.

Cole's repertoire includes sold-out performances with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl, BBC Concert Orchestra at Royal Albert Hall, The National Symphony at the Kennedy Center, The Hong Kong Philharmonic, The San Francisco Symphony, The Chicago Symphony, The Philadelphia Orchestra, Australia’s Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, The Minnesota Orchestra, The Pittsburgh Symphony, The New Zealand Symphony, Canada’s Edmonton Symphony, Brussels Philharmonic, and much, much more.

In May 2013, Cole made his debut at Carnegie Hall with the Albany Symphony.

Cole has also shared stages with big names such as William Warfield, Sylvia McNair, Lorin Maazel, Brian d’Arcy James, and friend and mentor Marvin Hamlisch.
He has written, directed, co-produced and performed multimedia concerts.

More of Cole’s bio can be viewed here.

Q: How long have you been a pianist?

A: I started lessons when a piano came into our household, and I was 4 1/2 years old.”

Q: How long have you been performing?

Cole is a Bay City native who has gone on to earn accolades all over the world.A: As long as I can remember with piano recitals. But my first paying “gig” was when I was 12. I played dinner music at an old restaurant called the Le Château in Bay City. Because they served alcohol, my dad had to sit with me as I played on an old upright which was painted all sorts of day-glow colors and had a black light in it. I played from 6 to 11 p.m. while my dad had free beer. I believe I was paid $25.”

Q: Tell us about your concerts for Dec. 9th and 10th and what Christmas songs you'll be performing.

A: I’ll be playing a beautiful 9-foot Steinway concert grand that comes in from Grand Rapids just for the concerts and oh does it sound glorious in that theatre. I try and mix the programming up with familiar and maybe a few unexpected or original Christmas tunes.

I also do all my own arrangements at the piano. They start out as improvisations and eventually take a shape I like and then I lock the arrangements in my memory bank.

Holiday tunes this year include a couple of piano medleys with "Silver Bells," "It's The Most Wonderful Time of the Year," and "Happy Holiday" in one, and "Joy to the World," "The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy," and "Mary's Boy Child" in another.

My up-tempo medleys have a lot of "finger gymnastics" as I like to call it.

In addition, this year I have a trio of some of the area’s finest women vocalists: Tezra Tromba, Rebecca Smith and Susan Fisher to each sing a solo number and then combine in a dynamic and moving arrangement of "Mary, Did You Know?" I’ve performed with these three friends in many musicals and concerts over the years. Musically speaking they can do any style of music you can imagine and the audience will enjoy them.”

Q: What do you most love about performing at the State Theatre?

A: I saw my first movie musical there, "The Music Man," when I was 3 years old, so the theatre and I have history together. Also, it’s just the right size for a concert without losing the intimacy of the moment.

Q: Anything else you'd like to mention?

A: If you love piano music this is the concert for you. I’ve done quite a few Christmas concerts over the years and this could be the last. You just run out of material after a while.

There’s also one other local engagement I must mention and that is my annual Christmas sing-a-long ‘Jingle Beers’ that I do at Chet’s Corner Bar in Bay City on Dec. 17th and 18th. Because of COVID, I couldn’t do it the last 2 years. There’s a wonderful feeling of community when everyone is singing together with songbooks and smiles all around. And I gave my original 105-year-old upright piano I started lessons on to the bar. A bit of history there too.

I lead the sing-a-long from 3 to 11 p.m. …yes, 8 hours! But I have special guests for my breaks; DJ and Trivia Master Randy Howell and Tara Noreen-Karaoke Queen who will keep the holiday spirit going!

So you have two chances in two different settings to enjoy holiday music. And I get to play music I love with people I love in both places. What’s better than that?”

Catch ‘Cole in your Stocking’ on Fri., Dec. 9 at 7:30 pm and again on Sat., Dec. 10 at 3 pm at the State Theatre. Tickets may be purchased here.