Brian Stokes Mitchell Drinks Deep From Meager Well of Suffering

Mitchell, performing in New York last April: Slightly deranged or movingly deluded? Tough call.Photo: Getty Images


With his anchorman’s diction, alpaca baritone, and twinkling teeth, Brian Stokes Mitchell exudes the sort of confidence that would shame a comic-book hero. Perhaps somewhere behind that smile is an ancient hurt that nourishes his art, but the darkest confession that Mitchell could come up with during the solo concert he gave last night at Carnegie Hall to benefit the Actor’s Fund was that as a child he had been (wait for it) … chubby.

That may seem like a meager well of suffering from which to eke the blues, but Mitchell has the great gift of making every song not just spontaneous and sincere, but as though he were composing it on the spot. We believed him when he sang the crippled Porgy’s “Bess, You Is My Woman Now.” He seemed slightly deranged in “Twisted,” creepily cold in “My Friends” from Sweeney Todd, and movingly deluded in “The Impossible Dream.” And when he croaked “It’s Not Easy Being Green,” we were even willing momentarily to believe that he was in fact … well, you know. Mitchell never seemed to notice when he was singing a sentimental song, and by the time he was done with the thing, its schmaltz had been distilled to harder, richer, and more complex substance. How well do you know “Some Enchanted Evening”? Not well — not until you’ve heard Brian Stokes Mitchell sing it, anyhow. —Justin Davidson