Brian Stokes Mitchell concert hits a high note

Review: Broadway veteran and rdelighted artist delights audience members in Goldstein Auditorium.

It’s no mistake Brian Stokes Mitchell was named “The Last Leading Manby “The New York Times.”

He’s tall, dark and handsome (and yes, ladies, married with a 7-year-old son). His signature voice sets him apart from other contenders: his control makes singing appear effortless.

But what specifically makes him a leading man, and the last of his kind? Three things: the non-computerized, rich, deepness of his voice combined with the subtle light, airy, gentle high notes and his humble demeanor.

Photo: Steve Sartori

Brian Stokes Mitchell and trio performed at Goldstein Auditorium Feb. 17, in an event sponsored by the Pulse Performing Arts Series.

Stokes Mitchell has had quite the journey of success to date. He performed not only in Broadway shows such as "Ragtime" and "Kiss Me, Kate," but on television in shows including “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” He has appeared on numerous CD recordings, and most recently, came out with a book, “Lights on Broadway with Brian Stokes Mitchell. Copies were sold after the performance, with all profits benefiting The Actors Fund, an organization helping anyone whose life is dedicated to performing arts and is going through crisis.

“We’re here tonight to bring some warmth into Syracuse,” said Stokes Mitchell singing the first song of the night, “Some Enchanted Evening” from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical "South Pacific."

“I hope it will be an enchanted evening.”

Stokes Mitchell took the audience through a musical memoir of his life to date.

The first theme addressed was how he loves to play bad boys in musical theater. He started off the show with bad boy songs including “Where is the Life That Late I Led?” from "Kiss Me, Kate" and “Stars” from "Les Miserables." The first showed off Stokes Mitchell’s comedic timing, the second his intense emotional side.

Stokes Mitchell told the audience about his upbringings and how his father introduced him to jazz music. His rendition of Gershwin’s “How Long Has This Been Going On?” showed audience members the gentle side of his personality as they were lulled by the whisper-like, soothing quality of his voice.

Stokes Mitchell’s trio blended beautifully with his voice, making one forget there was a band playing at all. Members were bass player Gary Haas, Buddy Williams on drums and Tedd Firth on piano. Williams and Haas were previously two thirds of the composer/musician Cy Coleman trio

Stokes Mitchell took some chances during the rest of the evening, performing some world music and delivering a wonderful, gentle rendition of Tony Bennett’s “It Amazes Me.”

He then moved back to his musical theater roots, taking on what he calls the “11 o’clock number,” meaning the culmination song at the end of a show. He put down the microphone (what he called the “cheater”) and sang “This Nearly Was Mine” from “South Pacific.” Stokes Mitchell proved that no microphone is no problem.

He took on the song featured in his new book “Lights on Broadway with Brian Stokes Mitchell,” titled I Was Here.” The song was written by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, who wrote “Ragtime.” It depicts how actors have just as much importance as other professions: how everyone can leave a mark on the world through what they do each day. The song had simple lyrics, which Mitchell delivered with a visible joy and passion for the role of an actor.

Stokes Mitchell revealed his more vulnerable side sharing an anecdote about his seventh grade dance as a “husky”male with no date. The audience happily giggled as he sang Kermit the Frog’s “It’s Not Easy Being Green,” complete with Kermit voice imitation.

Maury Yestin’s “New Words” brought the audience into the happiness of his parenthood. It was a joy to watch Stokes Mitchell get down on one knee and sing about teaching his child words such as moon, stars and love. There was a sparkle in his eyes throughout.

Stokes Mitchell capped the night off by speaking about recent events in Egypt.

“The world is full of delight and horror,” Mitchell said, noting how people in the U.S. are especially struggling with unemployment yet hoping for a brighter future.

When time came for the last song, the audience didn’t want him to leave and showed it with roars of applause and boos directed at his comment that he was almost done.

Before giving the audience the encore they so wanted he commented, “It is warm in Syracuse.”

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