Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Brian Stokes Mitchell’s heart is as big as his voice

Tony Award-winning actor Brian Stokes Mitchell is known among Broadway and cabaret communities for his sultry baritone that wraps around a phrase like no other.

We all will be treated to his musical resume Sunday, Feb. 28 as part of the Seth Concert Series, produced by Mark Cortale Presents and Broadway World. Rather than talking all about the great way Seth Rudetsky gets stories and songs from his guests, I want to talk more about the man with a kind heart.

When I was a young theatre geek, I heard this amazing voice on the Vanessa Williams cast album of “Kiss of the Spider Woman.” Then a short time later I heard this velvety voice on this obscure album “Lunch” which featured Broadway stars. I knew that voice was definitely the same and a fan was born. Back in those days, when you “followed” a star there was no Twitter or Instagram. So I had to follow him for real. So when I heard he was opening “Ragtime” the musical in Toronto, I worked overtime to get monies together to go to the show.

Then I wrote a letter to Stokes telling him how great he was and how I loved his voice and could even spot it in a musical line-up. Then I said I was flying from California to Toronto to see him in “Ragtime.” I got a call. It was Stokes. Damn — I wasn’t home. But I had a message on my answering machine. Stokes said he loved my letter but he was leaving the Toronto company to open the show in Los Angeles and if I went there instead, he’d love to meet me.

What? Brian Stokes Mitchell — pre Tony Award but post TV success — wanted to meet me. So YES I went to Los Angeles. I made him a mixed tape (maybe a mixed CD) of songs he should record. More obscure Broadway and theatre tunes but songs he should sing in any event. 

There I am backstage with Stokes. He’s introducing me like we’re old friends. He asked me to sign his guest book. What? He wants me to sign a book? Wow! Soon after that, the internet became popular and I used to write to Stokes via his AOL email he gave me. I’d meet him a few more times and/or offer reviews and comments via his AOL account. I still have that email address and would write every now and then. But they go unanswered. Likely not because Stokes doesn’t care, he probably doesn’t monitor an old AOL account. 

Over the years, my love and appreciation for his talent has never waned. But what stands out more than that voice, is the generosity of his spirit. Years and years and YEARS have gone by and none of my suggested songs were ever recorded by Stokes. Until 2006. When I got Stokes’ self-titled album, I saw the song “Grateful” included. I am positive that Stokes didn’t wait almost 10 years to record a song from my mixed tape. Still, it made me happy as I love to be involved with song selection and I knew that Stokes and that song is the perfect pairing of singer and song.

So to this day I am so grateful that we have someone like Stokes in the world. A star without the ego and one who was willing to see a young man’s love for theatre as a beautiful thing to celebrate and not ignore. I am sure hoping that “Grateful” is included in this weekend’s program. 

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Kevin M. Thomas

Kevin M. Thomas, or @ReelKev, is an arts blogger and entertainment reporter. In addition to his own website, and ReelKev YouTube channel, Kevin used to be the LGBT arts writer for and contributes to as well as a semi-regular on San Francisco's cable TV show, "10 Percent."

Kevin M. Thomas has 157 posts and counting. See all posts by Kevin M. Thomas

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