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On Center: Broadway Baritone

by on July 31, 2014 11:40 AM

A critic for the New York Times calls Brian Stokes Mitchell, who performs Broadway show songs in his Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State concert debut on Friday, October 17, “the last leading man.”

While his career has involved extensive work in television and film — including a seven-year stint on Trapper John, M.D., guest appearances on Frasier and Glee, a costarring role opposite Angela Bassett in Jumping the Broom, and an extraordinary performance of the song “Through Heaven’s Eyes” for The Prince of Egypt soundtrack — Mitchell’s greatest achievements have come in character and in concert on the stage.

“Mr. Mitchell commands a singularly thunderous baritone,” writes a New York Times reviewer. “Few other Broadway baritones have such vocal resources.”

Mitchell earned a Tony Award for best actor in the 2000 revival of Kiss Me, Kate. He also garnered Tony best-actor nominations for the musicals Man of La Mancha and Ragtime, and for the play King Hedley II.

In his Simply Broadway performance at Eisenhower Auditorium, based on a recording of the same title that USA Today chose as one of the best albums of 2013, he performs songs from memorable musicals.

Inspired by classic albums of the American Songbook created in the 1940s through the 1960s, Mitchell and pianist Tedd Firth made the recording the old-fashioned way — no overdubs, just a singer and a musician recording together in the same room.

“One of my favorite recordings from that time was an album of standards by Tony Bennett and the late great pianist Bill Evans,” Mitchell relates. “… Each time I listen to it, I seem to hear those old songs in a fresh, new way. I’m amazed by the intimate relationship of singer and song, and the beauty, simplicity, and depth that comes from saying most with the least.”

Mitchell brings that simple authenticity to the stage in a concert of songs from shows such as Company, Camelot, Porgy and Bess, Sunday in the Park with George, and Les Misérables.

The singer started working with Firth for a Carnegie Hall solo concert about seven years ago. He was so impressed with the pianist that they’ve collaborated regularly since.

“We seem to hear, feel, think, eat, and breathe music in a similar way,” Mitchell observes. “I like to tell myself that he is the pianist I would have become had I stayed as dedicated to that instrument as I am to singing.”

Lynn Sidehamer Brown and Kimberly Watkins sponsor the Eisenhower performance. Tickets for the concert and other Center for the Performing Arts 2014-15 music, theater, and dance presentations are on sale. Visit or phone (814) 863-0255 for information.


John Mark Rafacz is the editorial manager of the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State.
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