Mitchell brings Broadway to CSUN

Brian Stokes Mitchell sang Broadway favorites
Brian Stokes Mitchell sang Broadway favorites
Brian Stokes Mitchell's concert at CSUN's Valley Performing Arts Center on Saturday night was called Simply Broadway but the only thing simple about it is its reliance on a single instrument--Tedd Firth's piano--for musical accompaniment.

Everything else was rich, elegant, thoughtful, impressive and thoroughly enjoyable.

Mitchell, 56, has one of those smooth baritone voices that elevates practically every song . So, truth be told, he doesn't have to do much to please lovers of show tunes but just stand there and sing. Still, he does more, much more, and the result is a concert that is a collage of music, one that evokes scene after scene from the Broadway musicals from which they came.

The show is named for Mitchell's second solo album, Simply Broadway, released just more than a year ago. "Basically, it's the concept I'm going to do tonight," he told an audience enthralled by the four-time Tony nominee (and winner in 2000 for the revival of Kiss Me Kate).

His intention, Mitchell said, was to strip selected Broadway songs of the lush orchestration that often accompanies them, focus on the lyrics and, in so doing, present them "as they had not been done before."

In several cases, though, he added another dimension to the songs, performing them as though he was the character in the musical who sang them. His If I Were a Rich Man transported the audience to a performance of Fiddler on the Roof and his C'est Moi, the epitome of false modesty, brought the show to Camelot, if only temporarily.

Though he aimed to reflect the great variety of Broadway music, Mitchell clearly played favorites in both his album and on a stage that was both elegant and simple, with two hourglass-shaped black curtains before a constantly-changing multi-hued background.

Stokes chose two songs each from Camelot (C'est Moi and How to Handle a Woman), Porgy and Bess (A Woman is a Sometimes Thing and a rousing rendition of It Ain't Necessarily So, complete with choreography) and Man of La Mancha (the title song and The Impossible Dream). He also featured two numbers from different musicals by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse (What Kind of Fool Am I and his opener, Feeling Good).

Despite the sparse stage, Mitchell had no trouble conjuring up the characters in each musical, in some cases, using a stool or a wooden case to suggest the props in the actual scenes.

The numbers needed no introductions and, for the most part, he gave none. One exception, though, was his praise for same sex marriage and his salute to "any LGBT friends in the audience" that preceded Sorry-Grateful . Though the preamble was no doubt heartfelt, it seemed like a stretch to make it an introduction to the number from Company.

Mitchell, who has loaned his voice to several holiday song albums in the past, turned to seasonal numbers for his encores--first The Christmas Song (commonly known as Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) and then What Are You Doing New Year's Eve? Regarding the latter, one pleasant answer might be revisiting Mitchell's Simply Broadway album.

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