I saw Brian Stokes Mitchell in concert at Music By the Lake in Williams Bay, Wisconsin on 8/10/19. I typically start my reviews with a list of people who were at the event with me, but this was such a horde I felt it would work better in the second sentence: Anita (aka my mom), Howard and Patrick (aka my brothers), Richard (aka my husband), and my mom’s friends Luann, Celine, and Liz. Mom, Luann, Celine, and Liz have been going to Music By the Lake for many years and my brothers and husband and I were excited to share this experience with them, after hearing about it for so long.
It’s a gorgeous setting, right next to the lake. The prime seats are covered but we sat in the next-to-prime seats, on the side. We got there very early because Mom and her friends like to stake out good seats and people-watch.
Mitchell performed with the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Scott Speck. The orchestra opened with the overture to *Kiss Me, Kate,* the Cole Porter show for which Mitchell won his Tony. Richard said, “That was the longest overture I ever heard.” Mitchell strode out onstage looking fine - - Richard and I had a disagreement about the color of his suit. He said it was lavender, I said it was mauve.
Mitchell is an A-list Broadway performer. He made his first big impression in *Ragtime.* I’ve seen him twice, in shows that didn’t do so well: *Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown* (oh Lord that was a mess) and *Shuffle Along* (which was genius but had a hard time keeping up with *Hamilton,* which opened that same season). Mitchell is a virile baritone type, lanky as opposed to burly.
He opened with a Nina Simone song, “You Know How I Feel” (which I know from some car commercial). Next he did “I Am I, Don Quixote” from *The Man of La Mancha.* He really cut loose in this song, his singing was powerful and tangy. Best of all he did one verse in Spanish. Or was it Cathtillian?
He sang “How To Handle a Woman” from *Camelot.* The arrangement was lovely and had a featured role for guitar (I thought of the marvelous Bucky Pizzarelli). He talked about doing a concert production of *Les Miz* at the Hollywood Bowl, and he had the pleasure of playing the bad guy, Javert. He sang it well, with conviction, but what drek.
He made my mother happy by singing Gershwin, “It Ain’y Necessarily So” from *Porgy and Bess.* He did a little audience participation in that song, which was cute. He sang “This Nearly Was Mine” from *South Pacific,* and sounded great, but didn’t quite erase the memory of the divine Paolo Szot, who we saw in the role on Broadway. But is his job to erase memories? Probably not.
He sang a song from his upcoming album, “Not Getting Married Today” from *Company.* He sang all three parts, the bride, the groom, and the singer at the wedding. That was impressive but I had the impression that the rapid fire lyrics were a little too much work for the audience.
Next up was a mawkish song by Maury Yeston, “New Words,” which Mitchell dedicated to his son, who is now 15. It was sweet, but as Richard would say, too sweet for my diabetes.
He did a song that he had found online, written by a couple of young people. The song was called “I’m a Wizard Every Day” and it was very good, very well built and impressive.
He ended with a medley of “America the Beautiful” and “On the Wheels of a Dream” (which Richard had to remind me was from *Ragtime*). He sang two verses of “America the Beautiful” a cappella, and it was just approaching the border of barfous. But clearly he believed in it, so where’s the harm.
As I predicted, his encore was “The Impossible Dream,” which was a total knockout.