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A Film by Michael Kantor



Brian Stokes Mitchell

Brian Stokes Mitchell (or “Stokes,” as he likes to be called) is usually spoken of by critics and aficionados as a kind of Matinee Messiah, a full-throated masculine star in the manner of an earlier generation’s Richard Kiley or, even earlier, Alfred Drake. These comparisons are aided and abetted by Stokes’ appearance in revivals of “Man of La Mancha” and “Kiss Me, Kate,” playing roles those two stars made legendary.

Mitchell is not just a leading man, he’s a leading man for his times.

Upon his arrival on Broadway, he began a gradual but determined climb up the leading-man ladder, first in a musical called “Mail,” then in David Merrick’s all-black version of Gershwins’ “Oh, Kay!” — both flops. He went on to replace Gregory Hines in “Jelly’s Last Jam,” then took over as the radical political prisoner in “Kiss of the Spider Woman.” His big break came in 1998 when he played Coalhouse Walker, a turn-of-the-century black man who is provoked into becoming an urban terrorist, in the musical version of E. L. Doctorow’s “Ragtime” in 1997. Mitchell’s considerable charm, and the thrilling duets he performed with Audra McDonald, transformed Coalhouse from a smoldering cipher (as he had been in the 1981 film) into the evening’s hero and earned Mitchell a Tony nomination. For years, producers had been trying to revive “Kiss Me, Kate,” but in 1999, they had the real thing in Mitchell, and he finally won his Tony. In 2002, he stared in a Broadway revival of “Man of La Mancha,” for which he received his fourth Tony nomination. He had become that increasing rarity: a real Broadway leading man with a real Broadway sound.

Brian Stokes Mitchell

Born: October 31, 1958
Key Shows
  • "Jelly's Last Jam"
  • "Kiss Me, Kate"
  • "Kiss of the Spider Woman"
  • "Man of La Mancha"
  • "Ragtime"
Related Artists
  • Audra McDonald
  • Chita Rivera
  • Ben Vereen
  • Robin Wagner
But Mitchell is not just a leading man, he’s a leading man for his times. Coming from a culturally diverse background — African American, German, Scots, and Native American — he lends himself naturally to a greater world of diversity on stage. Within eight seasons, he played a Latin American prisoner, an African-American piano player, the all-American Fred Graham, and the 17th-century Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes. To a 21st-century audience, that all sounds pretty good — just like Mitchell’s booming baritone.

Source: Excerpted from BROADWAY: THE AMERICAN MUSICAL by Michael Kantor and Laurence Maslon. Published by Bulfinch Press.

Photo credits: Photofest