If you’re wondering why our best Broadway leading man abandoned musicals, it’s probably because he has too much fun doing concerts. Mitchell lopes onto the stage with a Cheshire cat grin beginning with a titillatingly light, slow “There’s No Business Like Show Business” (Irving Berlin). Four different accompaniment modes fill out the song. He’s playing.
Those of you who haven’t seen Mitchell in awhile won’t be disappointed. Kiss Me Kate’s 1999 Petruchio remains handsome, charming, and charismatic. His resonant baritone is in fine fettle. The artist moves like a dancer and, unlike many theater actors, connects with his audience one on one on one.
Tonight, Mitchell tells us, has a dual nature: rapidly advancing holidays and the proud completion of his “big fat Broadway album,” Brian Stokes Mitchell Plays with Music – “because I get to play a lot of different characters.”(Available on Amazon November 29.) Most material fits in the latter genre.
Mel Torme’s classic “The Christmas Song,” and a terrific, villain-cum-laude rendition of “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch” (Albert Hague/ Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel) delivered wide-eyed, fingers fluttering, with shoulder punctuation, represent the holidays. Arrangement of this by Joseph Thalken aptly borders on burlesque.
During “If Ever I Would Leave You” (Alan Jay Lerner/Frederick Lowe), replete with Lancelot’s French verse, Mitchell fixes on successive women in the audience, each giving way to a new coup de foudre. Every fickle turn elicits laughter. He leans, kneels, reaches. “It helps to have a band, gentlemen,” the artist wryly advises.
“Hello Young Lovers” (Richard Rodgers/Oscar Hammerstein II) is the first of several selections usually performed by women. Short, lilting, airbrushed phrases arrive with gravitas and grace. Feathery cymbal and stroked piano shepherd in George and Ira Gershwin’s “The Man I Love” presented by a character who believes he’ll meet his mate with such fermenting anticipation, we’re convinced. (The pronoun has not been changed.) Mitchell contributes his own excellent melodica accompaniment.
“A Wizard Every Day” (Liz Suggs/Nicko Benson) was serendipitously discovered online. “I like to treat any song like it’s a one act play,” Mitchell tells us, describing part of what makes him such an appealing performer. With this selection, he has ample arc in which to delve. The title comes from a little boy on Halloween. I’ve forgotten how to play…a man facing the trick-or-treater sings, I wish I could be like him and say/I’m a wizard every day…A wonderful song sympathetically offered.
Further poignancy is evoked in Maury Yestons’ stirring “New Words.” Mitchell croons as if to his infant, now fifteen year-old son. (Yeston wrote it for his own then baby.) Turn your eyes from the skies now/Turn around, and look at me/There’s a light in my eyes now/And a word for what you see/We call it love, my son/Say love…Piano is richly layered. Though beautifully rendered, I can’t help wishing the song was kept low and delicate rather than swelling.
Completely unexpected is Flag Song, a world premiere by Stephen Sondheim cut from Assassins. “I wanted to sing this because we turn on the TV today and the world is going crazy…if someone asked Sondheim to write a patriotic song for what’s going on, this would be it.” …And you think, why try/And you want to cry/ Then the flag goes by…It’s a bright blue sky/It’s my apple pie…We can change ourselves tomorrow/We can change…It’s a quiet oom- pah march with middle-American roots that could easily have been authored by George M. Cohan.
John Bucchino’s “Grateful” (with Mitchell playing sensitive piano) and George Weiss/Bob Thiele’s “It’s A Wonderful World” (on melodica again) express the performer’s thankfulness at being able to do what he loves. “If I was asked to name my favorite song,” he says of the latter, “It might be this one.” For awhile, in this sheltered environment, lyrics seem true. A splendiferous evening.
Photos by Maryann Lopinto
Brian Stokes Mitchell Plays with Music-Holiday!
Joseph Thalken- MD/Piano
Gary Hasse-Bass; Clint DeGanon-Drums
Through November 23, 2019