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Brian Stokes Mitchell finds his glee with 'Simply Broadway' concert, CD

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Diana Nollen  ::   UPDATED: 21 January 2014 | 3:41 pm   ::  

His new album is titled “Simply Broadway,” but nothing’s simple about Brian Stokes Mitchell’s career on stage and screen over the past 33 years.

He’s paid his dues, winning Tony nominations for most of his Broadway performances, taking the best actor prize for the 1999 revival of “Kiss Me Kate.”

He broke into television in 1979 with both “Roots: The Next Generations” and the featured role of Dr. Jackpot Jackson on “Trapper John, M.D.” To a new generation, however, he’s one of Rachel’s two dads on “Glee” and the father of the bride in the 2011 film “Jumping the Broom.”

He’ll be jumping from New York City to Riverside for a Hancher concert Friday night in the casino’s event center.

His powerful lyric baritone will wash over the audience as he draws heavily from the new CD, along with crowd favorites “Some Enchanted Evening” from a 2005 Carnegie Hall concert version of “South Pacific” and “The Impossible Dream” from his 2002 Broadway title role in “Man of La Mancha.” He’s also had star turns in “Oh Kay!” “Jelly’s Last Jam,” “Ragtime,” “Carnival!” and “Kismet” in New York and “Sweeney Todd” at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

He’s especially excited about a little bonus for Riverside fans. Since his new CD hit stores Oct. 30, this will be the first tour stop where he’ll be able to sell and sign copies of the disc after the show. Yet another way to connect with fans in a concert experience.

The details


“I’m so happy with the way the album came out,” Mitchell, 55, says by phone from his home in New York City, where he lives with his wife, a Broadway dancer, and their son, Ellington, who will turn 9 soon.

The title “Simply Broadway” doesn’t merely reflect the genre, it also reflects the way in which Mitchell recorded the new collection. Simply his voice and a piano.

“I conceived it about two years ago,” he says. “It was inspired by one of my favorite albums by Tony Bennett and Bill Evans. It’s just the two of them, a singer and a piano. I loved it because it really puts a different kind of focus and emphasis on the singer, and particularly on the song.

“You listen to them differently without the distractions of the trumpet fanfare and the timpani roll and the orchestra. It’s music in its simplest, purest form, in a sense. The only purer thing you can do is (record) a cappella as a solo singer, but that doesn’t make for a very good album,” he says.

“So I decided to use that same concept and do it with classic Broadway tunes.”

He and pianist/collaborator Tedd Firth headed into the studio and kicked it old-school.

“Usually nowadays when you record, you record at different times, different days. The musicians aren’t all together. But not only were we together at the same time, we were together in the same room,” Mitchell says. “So what you hear on the album is exactly what was happening at the moment.

“I’m so happy with it -- it sounds exactly what I wanted it to sound like. I wanted it to be a private concert -- especially if you have headphones on -- in your ear. It’s a way to honor these great, classic songs from ‘Camelot’ and ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ and ‘Sunday in the Park with George.’ “

What did he learn from the process?

“How hard it is to do an album that way,” he says with a hearty laugh. “I realized one of the reasons people don’t do it, is that it makes editing the album incredibly difficult. I produced it, as well, and did all of the editing.”

It didn’t help the editing process that he and his pianist like to toss in some improvisation, “so no two takes were ever the same,” Mitchell says, which made splicing even harder.

“But, the final product, I couldn’t be happier with.”

And he ended up with enough music to create a follow-up album.

He wouldn’t hesitate to record the same way in the future.

“The process was just too satisfying, fulfilling, and the way it sounds, I’m just ecstatic with it,” he says. “It’s luscious and beautiful and intimate and everything I hoped it would be.”

 

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