By Sandi Durell
When Brian Stokes Mitchell takes the stage at Feinstein’s/54 Below, the world is his oyster . . . brimming with impeccable musicianship, he is the epitome of the joyful storyteller of songs and tales. Think each song as a one-act play in his show entitled “Plays With Music – Holiday!” (the holiday added for seasonal pleasures) as he celebrates the release of his new orchestral album.
From Irving Berlin’s classic opener “There’s No Business Like Show Business” (filled with multi-rhythmic tempos), you have the feeling you’re hearing it for the first time.
Comical stories abound as in learning to speak four lines of French to pull off the sensual verse to Lerner & Loewe’s “If Ever I Would Leave You” – his soaring baritone a master class in dramatic acting. Robert Wright and George Forrest’s “Gesticulate” just another playful moment in a story song of words, words, words followed by “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch (Albert Hague/Theodor Dr. Seuss Geisel).
When Stokes sang at a recent Broadway Backwards (a yearly benefit for The Actors Fund), he took on the Gershwins’ “The Man I Love” – – like watching a film noir. But the piece de resistance, for me, was the little known “A Wizard Every Day” by new songwriters Liz Suggs and Nikko Benson that comes off like a 3-Act Play with a great message.
Stokes has that reality factor no matter what it is he tackles, whether on the melodica or playing piano on John Bucchino’s eternally soulful “Grateful,” his charm, playful countenance and always present persona engages. An “Impossible Dream” ? – not when Brian Stokes Mitchell is around! His band of merrymakers include musical director/piano Joseph Thalken, Gary Haase on bass and Clint DeGanon on drums.
Brian Stokes Mitchell “Plays With Music-Holiday!” Feinstein’s/54Below
254 West 54 St. (cellar) 646-476-2551 thru Nov. 23.