The Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center is presenting the man The New York Times dubbed “the last leading man,” the powerful baritone Brian Stokes Mitchell. In concert on Saturday July 2 at 8:30 p.m., Mitchell can also be seen on the big screen opposite Angela Bassett in the Tri Star comedy Jumping the Broom.
This is the third time in his career Mitchell has played Bassett’s husband. The first time was in the 2002 Showtime movie Ruby’s Bucket of Blood. This time he plays Greg Watson, father of the bride, in the film about two African American families, who live on opposite sides of the social spectrum, coming together for a wedding at the Watson Estate in Martha’s Vineyard. The film, Jumping the Broom, 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. The movie 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 has performed for President Obama and President Clinton. 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 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; “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 has also made a point of diversifying and to that end has performed in every area of the business imaginable—film, television, voice-overs, animated characters, theatre, 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 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 film of the same name. He played opposite Sherie Rene Scott, Laura Benanti, and Patti LuPone, some of Broadway’s most dazzling leading ladies, whom he found “enchanting.” The compact disc 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 in 2006. He is currently preparing to do another CD, and his concert at Westhampton Beach “would be an opportunity to try out a number of selections from the new album for the first time and to see how audiences respond. I will be working with Tedd Firth—the most brilliant pianist I ever worked with,” he said, “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 first-ever visit to the Hamptons. This July 2 will mark his third trip to the East End playing in a venue that he said is “one of my favorite theaters to perform at – the audiences are smart and the theater is so intimate.”
Brian Stokes Mitchell at WHBPAC Saturday, July 2 at 8:30 p.m. whbpac.org. 631-288-1500.