Brian Stokes Mitchell Opens Fall Season in Impressive Debut at Café Carlyle
By: Ellis Nassour
Tony Award winner Brian Stokes Mitchell, after a long Broadway sabbatical, is making his Café Carlyle debut to open its fall season, playing through September 26, in a themed concert, Plays with Music, featuring Broadway favorites, many to a jazz beat, and some tunes you might not expect. Mitchell’s last appearance in an intimate New York setting was eight years ago. At the Café, he literally towers over a third of the quite intimate room.
Mitchell uses a microphone, but certainly doesn’t need one. His vocals with those long-held high notes and jazzy riffs soar. He’s accompanied by a trio led by his long-time collaborator [since his 2010 Carnegie Hall solo concert], pianist and music director Tedd Firth, with legendary musicians Gary Haase on bass and Mark McLean on drums. He and Firth have come up with inspired arrangements that perfectly fit Mitchell’s theatrical flourishes and fearless baritone. Also, he not only showcases his vocal and acting chops, but displays a wide variety of musicianship playing piano, melodica, and flute.
Mitchell has been absent from the New York scene and Broadway to spend time with family and to do concerts with symphony orchestras across country. He recently appeared at City Center Encores!, has guested on TV shows, and had a recurring role on USA Network’s cult drama-thriller Mr. Robot. But the Café Carlyle appearance marks the fact that he’s back with a vengeance.
He returns to Broadway, where he hasn’t appeared since January 2011, in March opposite multiple Tony and Drama Desk winner Audra McDonald in Shuffle Along, Or the Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed,with music by Eubie Blake and Noble Sissie. Since 2004, Mitchell is also chairman of The Actors Fund.
Mitchell, often seeming to channel the impeccable Johnny Mathis with echoes of Bobby Short, book marks his concert with classic and powerful show business anthems. He opens with Berlin’s "There’s No Business Like Show Business"; and closes with a tune that’s become quite popular since Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens’ The Glorious Ones, their 11 o’clock showstopper, sung by Flaminio in the musical, "I Was Here."
In a nod to societal changes and the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS annual fundraiser Broadway Backwards, where artists sing tunes created for the opposite sex, Mitchell did a medley of the Gershwin’s "The Man I Love" and, with jet-fuel speed, Sondheim’s "Getting Married Today" from Company. He created another mesmerizing segment coupling Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz’s "By Myself" with Jerry Herman’s "I Won’t Send Roses" from Mack and Mable.
Among superb showstopping moments were a touching rendition of Alan and Marilyn Bergman and Michael Legrand’s "The Windmills of Your Mind" from The Thomas Crown Affair; Ivan Lins and Vitor Martins Brazilian ballad "Comecar de Novo (Starting Over)"; and a stunning interpretation of the 1600s Scottish folk song "The Water Is Wide."
His opening night encore was a warm and poignant spin on the song made famous by Louis Armstrong, Bob Thiele (a.k.a. George Douglas) and George David Weiss’s "What a Wonderful World."
Performances are Tuesday – Friday at 8:45pm; and Saturdays at 8:45and 10:45. Tuesday – Thursday and Saturday’s late show admission is $110, $65 bar seating with premium seating at $165; Friday and Saturday: $135, $75 bar seating with $185 for premium seating. Reserve by calling (212) 744-1600. Café Carlyle is located in the Carlyle Hotel, 76th Street at Madison Avenue. For more information on Mitchell, visit his www.brianstokes.com.
Café Carlyle is Celebrating 60th Aniversary
The Café Carlyle, which officially opened in 1955, is designed in the spirit of elegant 30s supper clubs, here and abroad. It features original colorful murals created by French artist Marcel Vertès, the Oscar-winning art director of the 1952 Moulin Rouge. For 36 years the Café was home to the legendary Bobby Short. There’s also the intimate cabaret gem Bemelmans Bar. The hotel, designed by Bien & Prince and named in honor of British essayist Thomas Carlyle, opened in 1930. It’s notable for numerous four-star and luxury accommodation awards. Richard Rodgers was the Carlyle’s first tenant. Another famous resident was Elaine Stritch. It’s favored by royalty, including the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and dignitaries – including every president since Harry Truman.