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May 11, 2018 5:27 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Brian Stokes Mitchell Returns To Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center On May 26

Brian Stokes Mitchell  ROBERT ASCROFT
May 14, 2018 9:30 AM

Broadway and television star Brian Stokes Mitchell lives by the motto “ride the wave.” Speaking to The Press ahead of his engagement at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on Saturday, May 26, he explained that over the course of his prolific career he has learned that life is often out of his control. However, he admitted the universe has been very good to him. With three Tony nominations and one win under his belt, the powerful baritone and emotive actor has his pick of projects.

Still, Mr. Mitchell said his passion currently lies in performing concerts all over the country. In his second appearance in Westhampton Beach, Mr. Mitchell will share vocal selections from his 2012 album “Simply Broadway,” his upcoming album “Plays with Music” and his long resume of musical theater.

“I’ve done hundreds of these performances now and I know so many hundreds of songs so it’s kind of fun to keep it loose,” he explained. “What I generally find is that it works best to customize the show for the venue.”

At Westhampton Beach he will be joined by his longtime pianist Tedd Firth, who also provides him with arrangements and orchestrations.

“He’s an incredible pianist. Any ideas that I come up with or things I want to do, Tedd can execute brilliantly,” he said. “We kind of get this wonderful mind meld together.”

In addition to sharing his voice with audiences, Mr. Mitchell also enjoys sharing his life experiences, his outlook on life and anything else that pops in his head.

“It’s almost like an improvisation that’s going on,” he said.

However, audiences can be assured that they will get to hear some of the selections he is best known for—namely from the musical “Ragtime,” which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Looking back on his career, Mr. Mitchell said the show is the one he treasures the most.

“It felt like that show was supposed to happen,” he said. “From the very first moment that the first note started up in the prologue in the first workshop, something magical descended on the room. It never left the show.”

Based on E.L Doctorow’s acclaimed novel and adapted by composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Terrence McNally, the musical threads together the experiences of African-Americans, Jewish immigrants and women at the turn of the 20th century. Mr. Mitchell played the tragic Coalhouse Walker, a Harlem musician, opposite Tony award winner Audra McDonald. The role earned him his first Tony nomination.

Looking back on the show, Mr. Mitchell noted how relevant the musical continues to be today.

“It not only relates to the climate we have going on now in the United States, but in the world in general,” he said. “What are the issues? Racism, immigration, women’s rights—and those are the three stories between [the three lead characters]. They’re as relevant now, unfortunately, as when the show first took place in the beginning of 1900 and when we were doing the show 20 years ago, and now it continues. All three of those fights and struggles are going on.”

Although he wished the show could have remained on Broadway forever, Mr. Mitchell said he was thrilled that the show would be available for community theaters and colleges to perform all over the country.

“That’s where I think the show really belongs, where everyone can have the opportunity to perform it with their own communities,” he said.

Fans of “Ragtime” may soon have the opportunity to attend a reunion concert that is in the works through the Actors Fund, said Mr. Mitchell, who is the organization’s board chairman.

“It seems everybody would love to do it and is willing to do it,” he said of the original Broadway cast.

While the show would be a one-night only engagement with about 1,500 seats, he said the Actors Fund would like to air the concert live online in some capacity. He instructed those interested in the event to keep an eye on the Actor’s Fund website, actorsfund.org, for an official announcement.

While Mr. Mitchell continues to work on various projects—he just filmed a pilot for CBS and continues to have recurring roles on Showtime’s “Billions” and CBS’s “The Good Fight”—he said he does not plan on rushing back to Broadway anytime soon.

“One of the things I find is getting more and more difficult about Broadway is doing the eight-shows-a-week part, because you’re doing the same show,” he explained. “If a Broadway show were to come up, it would have to be something really special.”

For now, he is content with his life and career and continues to enjoy performing 30 to 50 concerts a year.

“One of the things I love about [concerts] is that they’re always different. Every audience is different,” Mr. Mitchell said. “It’s a lot of fun, I think, for them and it’s certainly a lot of fun for me.”

Brian Stokes Mitchell will perform on Saturday, May 26, at 8 p.m. at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $130, $105 and $80. Call 631-288-1500 or visit whbpac.org.

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