Brian Stokes Mitchell, known as Stokes to his fanbase, has considerably more animated voiceover credits than musical theatre ones. There’s more money in film and television, and whilst even seasoned theatre actors must endure the rigour of multiple rounds of auditions and callbacks, if one makes secures a role in animated voiceover, it is (relatively) easy to secure another, and another, and so on. This edition of The Seth Concert Series even included a clip of Stokes in a 1985 episode of a television drama series called The Love Boat.
On his first viewing of Les Misérables, he admits to not having understood the show (there is, to be fair, a lot of characters and a lot of narrative) but nonetheless found himself playing Inspector Javert for a short run of performances at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, a 17,500 seater venue, in 2008. I recall seeing a tweet from a baritone who had graduated last summer from drama school, wanting to know why there weren’t more baritone roles in musical theatre, as he felt most of the available roles for men were for tenors.
This may well go some way to explaining why Stokes hasn’t appeared in more Broadway roles to date, though his involvement with a collective called Black Theatre United highlights a wider problem of systemic racism, which although by no means limited to the theatre industry, is nonetheless present in it. As Stokes puts it, there might well be black people on stage, but in many productions, there is still under-representation amongst creative teams, crews and musicians.
No surprise then, that for both Stokes and for a considerable number of audience members for this online concert, a reprisal of ‘Make Them Hear You’ and ‘Wheels of a Dream’ from Ragtime, set in New York in the early twentieth century, at a time when a large influx of immigrants from various countries were sailing to the United States to start a new life, were well-awaited highlights. Had it not been mentioned, it would have been impossible to tell that this was an actor who previously had extensive vocal surgery and was also diagnosed with coronavirus in April 2020 – his voice was in fine form, gliding with ease through the mellow ‘This Nearly Was Mine’ from South Pacific and the breakneck-paced ‘Getting Married Today’ from Stephen Sondheim’s Company.
Some hilarious stories of mishaps only sought to highlight the spectacle of live theatre attended in person: even for an online concert like this, everyone watching sees the exact same camera angle. There have been plenty of lessons learned in Stokes’ illustrious career, and his seemingly boundless joy came across very well in this energetic and refreshing experience.
It is also worth mentioning The Actors Fund, a charity that has Stokes as Chairman of the Board and provides an extensive range of services from health insurance to career counselling. As for this performance, capturing the characters in the songs he sang, many in the audience felt they were on journeys into the worlds of, say, Camelot or La Mancha. With alternative arrangements that even the erudite and skilled musical director Seth Rudetsky found challenging, this was a concert that won’t be forgotten by those in attendance for quite some time.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Dubbed “the last leading man” by The New York Times, two-time Tony Award-winner Brian Stokes Mitchell continues to enjoy a 40-year career that spans Broadway, television, film, and concert appearances. He received Tony, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle awards for his star turn in Kiss Me, Kate. Stokes also has Tony-nominated performances in Man of La Mancha, August Wilson’s King Hedley II, and Ragtime, and he was recently inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame. Other notable Broadway shows include Kiss of the Spider Woman, Jelly’s Last Jam, and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. In 2016, Stokes made a long-awaited return to Broadway in Shuffle Along and received his most recent Tony Award that year for his work as Chairman of the Board of the Actor’s Fund. An extremely versatile singer, he has performed nationally at venues spanning jazz, opera, pops, country, and musical theater worlds including two performances at the White House. Stokes has appeared on more than 20 albums and his musical creativity as a vocalist has been extended to include producer, arranger, and orchestrator on all 3 of his solo albums, including his new release, Plays With Music.
BRIAN STOKES MITCHELL with SETH RUDETSKY
Sunday, February 28 Live at 3PM EST and Rebroadcast at 8PM EST