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Interview: Brian Stokes Mitchell is Excited About AN EVENING WITH BRIAN STOKES MITCHELL at Wharton Center!

The one-night-only concert event will take place Friday, September 23.

Interview: Brian Stokes Mitchell is Excited About AN EVENING WITH BRIAN STOKES MITCHELL at Wharton Center!
Brian Stokes Mitchell

Broadway legend and film star, Brian Stokes Mitchell, will make his first appearance in East Lansing on Friday, September 23rd, in Cobb Great Hall. The 2-time Tony Award winner with a 40-year career spanning Broadway, television, film, and concert appearances is a highly versatile singer ready to give fans a memorable show. I had so much fun chatting with Stokes, as he likes to be called, about his upcoming appearance at the Wharton Center. His energy, joy, and happiness were infectious through the phone! East Lansing, you are in for a treat with his show, An Evening with Brian Stokes Mitchell! Check out our fun interview below!

Katie Laban for BWW Detroit: Can you describe An Evening with Brian Stokes Mitchell in five words?

Brian Stokes Mitchell: Five words. Let's see; I would say joyous. That's actually a good question. Joyous. Eclectic. Artful. Funny. What would be the last word? There are so many words I can use, and I'm trying not to be redundant. Appreciative. Because I'm appreciative of the audience, the experience, the venue, the orchestra, and all the presets from my point of view.

Those are great words. Expanding on that question, you call the show An Evening with Brian Stokes Mitchell. What can they expect this evening?

Well, as per your first question, all of those things. I hope, when I do a show, especially now, after this post-ish COVID time that we are in, that what I want an audience to feel is happier when they walk out of the theatre than they did when they walked in. For me, and I think for most performers, the theatre is a kind of sacred space. It's a kind of church. And like a church, that's what I think you should feel as well; you should feel better when you leave than you did when you walked in. That's what I'm going to be doing with all the other people that are going to be joining me on the stage for this experience and off stage that you can't see. But I want to transform the molecules in the room, which is kind of recenter as it helps me do that. Recenter us; since we've been through this terrible ordeal for the last two and a half years. It's about acknowledging that, forgetting that, and moving on in joy and gratitude.

I love that. Do you change your setlist according to the city you're performing in?

Interview: Brian Stokes Mitchell is Excited About AN EVENING WITH BRIAN STOKES MITCHELL at Wharton Center!
Brian Stokes Mitchell

What I love about doing live performances, especially live concerts, is it's never the same thing twice. And especially for concerts because I do change it. Sometimes a lot, sometimes subtly, from city to city or town to town, depending on what's happening in the world. This one is Friday the 23rd, and I'm doing it with a trio. I have a great trio, by the way. I know literally hundreds of songs that I could do. They like to customize the show for the room, the time, and how I feel.

This is my first time in Lansing, which means it'll be the kind of a greatest hits show with some of the other things thrown in because I sing in many styles, but most people know me from Broadway. I'll give them all the Broadway songs that they want to hear and have come to know and love. Then I throw in a few fun things and surprises they also know and love that they might not think I would do. I have a lot of jazz influence. I was raised on jazz and love standards and world music. That's what I mean when I say eclectic.

You just mentioned that you know hundreds of songs. Do you have a favorite song to perform?

I have a number of favorite songs actually to perform. I'll be doing all of those. But I'll leave that as a surprise because I usually announce them. But one of the other things that I've started doing now, Katie, is because I performed for so long is when you asked me that question about 'what do I sing,' all of the songs that I sing now are songs that I love to sing. They're all really great songs. I don't have to sing songs anymore that I don't want to sing. They're all favorite songs, but I have at least dozens or hundreds of favorite songs. Because every song, well, it's like people, you know, everyone is different. Everyone has a different personality. And depending on how I'm doing it, how the trio feels about things, like people, songs have different personalities. We all have different personalities from day to day, from hour to hour sometimes. So, it's really spontaneous.

In that sense, I think that's where my jazz sensibility comes in. Even though I may be singing a straight Broadway tune, and, for lack of a better word, I kind of like to channel and let the spirit of the evening come through me, whatever that is. I found that it not only makes me incredibly happy and delighted to be able to do what I do, but it also translates to the audience. And what happens is there becomes this kind of synergistic loop, I like to call it, this energetic loop between the performers on stage and the audience. We get to sort of play with and off each other. So, it's collaborative. It's a collaboration. You know, maybe that's one of the words I probably left out in that first question - collaborative. Because I'm collaborating not only with the musicians on stage, with the audience, the lighting people, the sound people - you know, that's the joy of live theatre. It's this wonderful collaboration of lots of people, seen and unseen.

That's a wonderful explanation. Do you still get nervous before shows?

I generally don't get nervous anymore. I get excited. Most times, I find people get nervous about the unknown. For me, the unknown is what this audience will be like, how they will respond, and what could go wrong during the show? All of these questions you have in your mind, but I've gotten to the point where I've done hundreds and hundreds of concerts in my life, and it's like almost nothing can go wrong. Even if something goes wrong, you roll with it and have fun. The only times that I get nervous about something is if I'm unprepared. And I'm not unprepared just because I've done these concerts so much.

Another word that I went through my mind was spontaneous. I'm adding it to your list. As I said, it really depends on the audience and how I feel because every show is different. That, for me, is the fun. But no, I can't say that I get nervous anymore. So, the short answer to your question is no; I don't get nervous. I think the word is excited. It's really what I get. I'm really excited before I walk on stage.

If you had to pick a moment in your career that made you the happiest, what would that be?

Oh, you're asking such great questions, Katie. Thank you for these thoughtful questions, by the way. When I've been made me the happiest... I have so many of them again; a million of them. What made me happiest? You know, I think this is a continual thing. What makes me happiest is when I feel I've made a connection with an audience, especially after a song or during a song, I can feel it as well or after the show. I can feel from the applause or the reaction of an audience that the connection I'm hoping for from the beginning of the show to make with an audience has been made. And that I wish everybody could feel what that feels like. It's an incredible feeling to connect with sometimes 1000s of people. I performed in auditoriums of 23,000 people or the Hollywood Bowl, which you know, is huge, Radio City, and some very huge venues. But the number doesn't matter; the connection I'm making with people matters. To feel that, feel I've made that connection, and feel that something bigger than me was coming through me and into the room, and everybody was open to it, responding to it, and feeding it back to me as well. I think that's the most incredible experience. There are very specific experiences and things that have happened to me during shows. But overall, that's why I keep coming back to it.

Honestly, of all of the things that I've done in my life - movies, television, animated voiceovers, composing, arranging, conducting, orchestrating, engineering - my very favorite thing is doing concerts. I think it's because it's all in my control. It's always different. It's spontaneous as every audience is different. I can do what I want. I can say what I want. I can go with the flow. It really makes it fun for me. I love that experience. And playing with an audience. Oh, that's another word! I would add playful - more than anything, I love to play. I love to play in life. My last album was called Plays with Music. It was a double entendre because I used music from shows and musicals, but I deconstructed them and kept them in the energy of the original show. And I've been doing some of those songs in this concert, by the way, as well. I deconstructed them but kept them in the spirit of the original music that did something wildly different with it. I played with rhythms; I played with tempos; I played with harmonic structure; I played with my vocals; I played with tone; I played with all kinds of things on it. Maybe that's one of the first words I would have mentioned if I had thought of is playful. That's part of that fun and that joy. I love to play.

Interview: Brian Stokes Mitchell is Excited About AN EVENING WITH BRIAN STOKES MITCHELL at Wharton Center!
Brian Stokes Mitchell

That's wonderful. I love that answer. Thank you.

You're welcome. Good luck editing them down to size!

I'm a wordy person when I write, so I appreciate it when people give me more than just one-word or one-sentence answers!

You found that person now!

Well, you answered all of the questions that I had. And very well, thank you!

Thank you! And I appreciate you, thank you, not only for your thoughtful questions! As I said, it's collaborative. And you know, you're part of that collaboration, and especially coming back from COVID, as we all are, I'm still the Chairman of the Board of the Entertainment Community Fund, which helps anybody in entertainment in times of need, crisis, or transition. That includes musicians, crew members, everybody, and it's really, really beautiful. To see this kind of collaboration, not only does that happen with the people you see on stage, but you're a part of that collaboration because you tell people about the shows we're doing. And you get people excited about that. And then the audience comes in, and they're part of the collaboration as well. It's this kind of joyous thing that happens. And I'm just grateful to you for writing about the arts, covering the arts, keeping the arts alive, and keeping your venue and town alive. And thank you for that. I'm just really grateful to you for being a part of that. Thank you.

Thank you very much. That was a lovely thing to say. I appreciate that. It's nice to hear. So, thank you!

Absolutely. Just another really quick thing is that I look forward to coming back to the Midwest. My wife is from Wisconsin; that's where I was married. I love the Midwest. I love the people there. It's always a joy to return there from New York City. I've lived all over the world and all over the place, but I love the Midwest.

We're excited to have you! I know this is your first time at Wharton Center.

It is.

They're very excited to have you perform!

Well, I'm just as excited to come in. So, please let everybody know that too!

I'm glad that you're excited about the show. Thank you for your time!

Thank you! Take care, Katie. Really nice talking to you!

Nice talking to you. Have a wonderful day!

You too. Take care. Have the best day of your life today!

An Evening with Brian Stokes Mitchell will happen on Friday, September 23rd, at Cobb Great Hall in Wharton Center in East Lansing. For more information or tickets, please visit www.whartoncenter.com or call 1-800-Wharton (517.432.2000). Tickets start at $36 per person.

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From This Author - Katie Laban

Katie Laban is BroadwayWorld's Detroit Senior Editor and a freelance writer and photographer in the Metro Detroit area. She is disabled and chronically ill but has a strong passion for boo... (read more about this author)


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