By: Sandi Durell
What separates the men from the boys is apparent as soon as Stokes stepped onto the small elegant stage at Café Carlyle for his debut on September 15th. The musical powerhouse of style and refinement is embodied in this Tony winning Broadway genius brimming with joy and a vocal prowess that clearly sets him apart. Although he’s become used to large concert venues, it’s evident he plays well in small, intimate settings.
From the get-go, his opening Berlin’s ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business” is an exciting arrangement in various tempos of whimsicality accounting for how Stokes does play with music making for originality and unending imagination. He continues to play on “Gesticulate” (from Kismet), a list song and, although excited and terrified (Stokes’ words), not a single lost word.
One of the evening’s highlights is the touching twosome arrangement of “By Myself” (Schwartz/Dietz) melded with “I Won’t Send Roses” (Herman) showing off a vocal depth and sweet falsetto of joy. And while we’re on the topic of joy, that’s how Stokes presents the entire evening of song – with great emotional joy and passion, enhanced by theatricality that feels au natural. Whether he’s in pop-jazz or Broadway style, his inner rapture is ever-present.
The essence of who he is . . . a romantic, a lover, a husband, a father, a son . . . converge as he gives voice to the familiar (“If Ever I Would Leave You” – Loewe/Lerner; “The Windmills of Your Mind” (Bergmans/Legrand)), and the unfamiliar “A Wizard Everyday” (by new songwriters Liz Suggs & Nikko Benson) – “a kinda Halloween song,” says Stokes, allowing for his multi-talents and playfulness to shine. In between, he’ll pick up a Melodica and play it accessorizing his singing, or sit down at the piano to accompany himself.
From Sondheim to Ahrens & Flaherty, the evening unfolds in sheer brilliance, Stokes unafraid of showing his vulnerabilities at every turn, while long-time collaborator Musical Director Tedd Firth, accompanies him at the piano, along with Gary Haase on bass and Mark McLean on drums.
Photos: Michael Wilhoite