‘WPAS & The Choral Arts Society of DC’s ‘Broadway’s Show-Stoppers with Brian Stokes Mitchell’ by Jessica Vaughan

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Broadway legend and Tony Award winner Brian Stokes Mitchell and the Choral Arts Society of Washington wowed a Mother’s Day crowd with a feel-good repertoire of Broadway and instant classics at The Kennedy Center Concert Hall at for The Choral Arts Society of Washington: Broadway’s Show-Stoppers with Brian Stokes Mitchell co-sponsored by WPAS (Washington Performing Arts Society).

Members of The Choral Arts Society. Photo courtesy of The Choral Arts Society of Washington.
Members of The Choral Arts Society. Photo courtesy of The Choral Arts Society of Washington.

Mitchell has been acting on Broadway since the 80’s and won a Tony for Kiss Me, Kate in 1999. He’s been nominated three more times for rolls in Ragtime, King Hedly II, and Man of La Mancha. He’s also acted in film and television, including a hilarious stint on Glee and a one-time concert version of South Pacific alongside Reba McIntire.

Before he enchanted audiences with Some Enchanted Evening from that show, The Choral Arts Society of Washington took the stage with “It’s a Grand Night for Singing” from State Fair under the direction of Artistic Director Scott Tucker. Comprised of over 180 professional-caliber volunteers, the chorus is in their 48th season bringing new works and the classics to life for audiences all around DC.

They also performed medleys from two of Broadway’s greatest composers, first Jerome Kern and then Steven Sondheim, accompanied by a 15-piece orchestra. The choir has a big sound well-suited for show tunes. Their playful take on Kern’s “Who” and Sondheim’s “The Little Things You Do Together”(from Company) had the audience laughing, especially at the fun exchanges between performers in the rows. Unlike many choirs, all vocal parts were mixed together so men and women were interspersed.

The lights went down and Mitchell took the stage with a 5,000 watt smile, a snappy suit, and his absolutely perfect voice. He’s calls himself baritone, but can go from a bass to high tenor range. New York piano player and his long-time accompanist Tedd Firth joined the orchestra and got to wail away especially during a jazzy Gershwin medley.

His deep, resonant voice stole my breath, but it was the charisma and sense of story he brought to these songs that truly makes him great, conjuring entire histories and huge Broadway staging with his voice for the hilarious “Where is the Life that Late I Led” from Kiss Me, Kate or the touching “How to Handle a Woman” from Camelot. He bounded around the stage, and at one point, off of it, singing “S’Wonderful” to a lucky lady in the first row or collapsing like Methuselah during “It Ain’t Necessarily So” from Porgy and Bess. On that song, the audience also got to sing along.

He mentioned his own mother and Mother’s Day repeatedly, and many of the songs were inspirational or celebrated the power of love and especially love for children like “Wheels of a Dream” from Ragtime, a love song to a son and “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel. He added one song, apparently just the day before the concert, specifically to celebrate Mother’s Day. It was a sweet number by Maury Yeston called “New Words.” The song is sung directly to a child, teaching him the words for moon and stars and love. It was such a sweet moment and no one can bring that kind of emotional punch to the stage like Mitchell.

The highlight of the evening was “This Was Nearly Mine” from South Pacific, which he sang without a microphone (unplugged). Mitchell praised the acoustics of The Kennedy Center Concert Hall for making that possible. Even with hall, very few singers could have filled the room like he with such beautiful sound. Sitting in the audience, I was aware above and beyond his smile and his love, we were in the presence of a rare and magical talent. The audience did not wait for the end to give him a standing ovation.

Though that song caps South Pacific, he chose another to end the evening, the iconic and perfect “The Impossible Dream,” joined again by the choir. This was the song he chose to sing at the recent From Broadway With Love: A Benefit Concert for Sandy Hook.He sang every word with such conviction there will never be another Don Quixote like him.

Brian Stokes Mitchell. Photo by Getty Images.
Brian Stokes Mitchell. Photo by Getty Images.

Funny, poignant, inspiring, and just plain awesome, Brian Stokes Mitchell delivered as he promised when he walked onstage, “a feel-good concert for a feel-good day.” One constant through the entire performance was the gigantic grin on his face and on every member of the Washington Choral Arts Society and the audience.

Running Time: One hour and 30 minutes, with no intermission

The Choral Arts Society of Washington: Broadway’s Show-Stoppers with Brian Stokes Mitchell played for one night only The Kennedy Center Concert Hall – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For more information on future Kennedy Center events, visit their website. Visit Washington Performing Arts Society’s website.