By Patrick Christiano
The Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center is presenting the man the NY Times dubbed “the last leading man,” the powerful baritone Brian Stokes Mitchell, in concert on Saturday July 2 at 8:30 pm. Mr. Mitchell can also be seen on the big screen opposite Angela Bassett in the Tri Star comedy JUMPING THE BROOM.
This is the second time in his career Mitchell has played Ms. Bassett’s husband. The first time was in the 2002 Showtime movie “Ruby’s Bucket of Blood.” In JUMPING THE BROOM he plays Greg Watson, the father of the bride, in the film about two African American families, who live on opposite sides of the social circle coming together at Watson’s Estate in Martha’s Vineyard for a wedding. The film opened on May 6, 2011 with a domestic box office take of $14 million on the first weekend out, placing it third on the box office list of top grossing films and has continued to do well, grossing almost $37 million as of June 16, a tidy little sum for a film that cost only $6.6 million.
Speaking about his small part in the movie Mitchell said “I am happy with the results. It was a great fun company. The film shows the different views of weddings particularly in the African American community. The groom is from a very wealthy family and the bride works in the post office. Weddings like funerals bring out the best and the worst in everyone. “
The Tony Award winning star has been invited to the White House and performed for President Obama and President Clinton as well. However, he has been a leading man on Broadway since the early 1990s winning his Tony Award for Kiss Me Kate in 2000. Speaking about that show Mitchell said “Sometimes you just get lucky. Michael Blakemore, the director was perfect. The cast was perfect, the crew and creative team were perfect. We had such a good time and that was a wonderful experience.”
Other acclaimed Broadway performances include Jelly’s Last Jam (1992), Kiss of the Spider Woman (1993), Ragtime (1998), August Wilson’s drama King Hedley II (2001) and Man of La Mancha (2002). He said “Working on Ragtime was the most magical show I have ever did, the experience bonds people.”
He met his wife, Allyson Tucker, in 1990 on the last Broadway show David Merrick produced, “Oh Kay.” They were married in 1994, and they have a 7 year old son Ellington. Mitchell has had a charmed life, a fact, he quickly admits saying, “I have been very fortunate. I am the luckiest actor in the world. I have been working in the profession since I was 17 years old without ever having to wait tables or tend bar.”
He also has made a point of diversifying and to that end has performed in every area of the business imaginable – film, television, voice-overs, animated characters, theater, recordings, and more recently concert work singing to audiences of 2,500 to 5,000 people at a time and even larger audiences in venues as high as 18,000. His concert work he said “Gives him a chance to explore his connection to the audience and expand his repertoire.” And two years ago, he even co-authored a children’s book, “Lights on Broadway.”
Mitchell said “The more you do, the more you work, and everything informs everything else.” He has a passion for arranging music and doing orchestrations, which he said “Affects his singing as well and keeps the brain going. I love learning new things and challenging myself.”
This past season on returning to Broadway Mitchell scored a Drama Desk Award nomination for Best Featured actor in a musical in David Yazbek’s Tony and Drama Desk nominated musical Women of the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, based on the 1988 Pedro Almodovar film of the same name. He plays opposite Sherie Rene Scott, Laura Benanti, and Patti LuPone, some of Broadway’s most dazzling leading ladies, whom he found “enchanting.” The CD of the music from the show was just released last month.
Mitchell also has his own CD of mostly Broadway tunes called simply “Brian Stokes Mitchell,” which was released on the Playbill Records label in 2006. Currently preparing an new CD Mitchell said “The concert at Westhampton Beach would be an opportunity to try out a number of selections from the new album for the first time and see how audiences respond. I will be working with Tedd Firth – the most brilliant pianist I ever worked with. When we work together it’s such a joy, like we are one brain.”
Mitchell performed at Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center two seasons ago on his second visit to the Hamptons. This July 2nd will mark his third trip to the Eastend playing at WHBPAC, a venue he said was “One of my favorite theaters to perform in – the audiences are smart and the theater is so intimate.”
Brian Stokes Mitchell will perform at Westhampton Beach Performing Arts center on Saturday July 2, 2011 at 8:30 pm. Tickets range from $75 to $125. Call the box office at 631-288-1500 or online at www.whbpac.org
Originally Published In Dans Papers Thursday June 23, 2011