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Queens Chronicle

Stage and screen star opens up on his way to Queens

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Posted: Thursday, April 5, 2018 10:30 am

Spending an hour or so in conversation with Brian Stokes Mitchell, the Broadway leading man who will appear in concert at the Queensborough Performing Arts Center on April 15, is all it takes to appreciate the zest he has for life and everything it has to offer.

Even on the telephone, his resonant baritone voice, well-known throughout a career that has spanned some three decades and is still going strong, is clear and powerful. And he answers each question fully, thoughtfully, and with great enthusiasm, as if doing so for the first time.

A native of Seattle, he likes to say he was born on Broadway. After all, he points out, “The hospital I was born in is on Broadway.”

“I call myself the luckiest actor in the world. I never had to wait tables. I have always been able to support myself” as an actor, he said.

His first of two Tony Awards came in 2000, for his performance in the Broadway revival of “Kiss Me, Kate.” “It was pretty overwhelming, an out-of-body experience,” he said. “The stars have to align perfectly for that kind of thing to happen.”

Sixteen years later he was awarded a special Tony for his humanitarian work, which includes 14 years and counting as chairman of the Actors Fund of America, a charitable organization that assists needy on-stage and behind-the-scenes members of the entertainment industry. He is thankful for his success and sees service as “a way to pay back the universe.”

He has also lobbied in Washington, DC on behalf of the arts, which, he said, many people take for granted.

“The arts are everything beautiful that is not nature,” he said. They “make you look at life in a different way. The arts connect us to humanity, to ourselves. Arts can change people in one moment for the rest of their lives.”

And, he added, “When we look at societies in the world, what survives? The art survives.”

Growing up, he was surrounded by music. Calling his father “a big jazz fan,” Stokes and his actress wife, Allyson Tucker, named their son Ellington, though Stokes insists it was merely a name that seemed to fit.

Would this veteran of nearly a dozen Broadway shows (among them “Ragtime,” “Man of La Mancha” and the drama “King Hedley II,” all of which earned him Tony nominations) and multiple forays into television series, films and recordings like to see his son, now 14, follow in his theatrical footsteps?

“No!” he answered emphatically. “It’s not a profession I would wish on anybody.” Rejection requires a thick skin and success can play with one’s mind, he said. “People feel they own you.”

But, he was quick to add, he would do it all again. “It’s been perfect for me,” he said. “I love to work.”

As for the upcoming concert, it is believed to be his first in the borough, though even he couldn’t be sure.

“I’ve crisscrossed the United States so many times, I can’t remember where I’ve been,” he explained.

And Stokes — his mother’s maiden name and the one he prefers to go by — doesn’t yet know what songs he’ll be singing. “It depends on what’s going on in the world,” he said. “It all varies; it’s never the same thing.” But he’s sure of one thing: “I want people to feel better when they leave than when they came in.”

While Stokes has cut back somewhat on the eight-shows-a-week grind that is Broadway, he’s far from idle. In addition to his concertizing, he has been working on a new solo CD, “Plays With Music,” which has repeatedly been put on the back burner while other endeavors have intervened.

Stokes is philosophical about it all.

“I’ve learned in life that things will get finished when they’re supposed to get finished,” he said.

And the latest distraction, a pilot for a new CBS comedy series, “Fam,” is one Stokes eagerly anticipates. Playing a character described as “unaffected with a great sense of humor,” Stokes seems an ideal match.

But, more than anything else, he said, he loves to learn.

“I am best at being a student. If you have curiosity in your life, that will give you joy forever,” he said. “I don’t want to read about life. I want to live it.”

Brian Stokes Mitchell: Simply Broadway
When: Sun., April 15, 3 p.m.
Where: Queensborough Performing Arts Center,
222-05 56 Ave., Bayside
Tickets: $40-$50. (718) 631-6311, visitqpac.org

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