Kitsap County has produced its share of creative talent that has appeared on stage, television and in film over the years. The iconic figure, of course, is music composer and producer Quincy Jones, whose first name now adorns Quincy Square on a portion of Bremerton’s 4th Street.
Young home-grown talent also has recently appeared on television: Port Orchard natives Zoe McLennan and Madelaine Petsch have held down starring roles (Petsch continues to) on popular network dramas.
But there’s one artist — Brian Stokes Mitchell — born in Seattle, with older siblings birthed in Bremerton, who perhaps tops all of them in the scope and breadth of his work in the entertainment business. Mitchell, a versatile baritone singer who is probably best known for his acclaimed work in musical theater on Broadway, won a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his work in the 1999 revival of Cole Porter’s “Kiss Me, Kate.”
The busy singer-actor is returning this weekend to his home roots following a successful two-week appearance in New York at Feinstein’s/54 Below dinner club, where he entertained sold-out audiences with his performance of musical show tunes and a sampling of holiday music. Mitchell will take the stage on Saturday, Dec. 7, for a benefit performance at the Historic Roxy Theatre in Bremerton (see concert information following this story).
The single-performance event, presented by the Roxy Bremerton Foundation, will benefit the foundation’s efforts to purchase the theater. Mitchell will fly in from New York City with his trio of musical accompaniment and perform musical stage numbers such as “The Impossible Dream” from “Man of La Mancha,” as well as a variety of Christmas holiday tunes.
Mitchell, who spoke by telephone last week from New York City where he and his wife, actress Allyson Tucker, and son Ellington, now reside, said he’s excited to return to the Puget Sound area to perform — which is a surprisingly rare occurrence for the Broadway star.
“I don’t get out there as often as I’d like,” the entertainer said while walking in the city’s theater district. His last visit was in 2012 when he played at Benaroya Hall with the Seattle Symphony in one of composer Marvin Hamlisch’s last appearance before his death. Mitchell’s performance, in fact, was his first-ever in Seattle.
He told the audience then that he’d spent so much time in musicals that some said he must have been born on Broadway: “That’s true. I was born in Seattle at Swedish Hospital on Broadway!”
But Mitchell is making a rare appearance here at the behest of childhood friend Steve Sego of Port Orchard, who leads the Roxy Bremerton Foundation (see the concert information box above). Sego and Mitchell became acquainted while they were elementary school kids living in the Philippines. Sego had just arrived with his family to the tropical island nation, where his father had taken a job as a civilian engineer with the U.S. Navy. Mitchell’s father, who also was an engineer, had asked Brian (he’s called Stokes by his friends) to show the ropes to the new student at school.
“Steve is my oldest friend in life,” Mitchell related. “I don’t know anybody else who goes that far back in my life.”
Their bond is unusual for two people who early on led transient lives with families that moved often for work. “Steve is actually the only friend from back then that I kept in contact with from that far back. We just immediately liked each other,” he said.
“I think that actually prepared me well for my profession because that’s actually what happens when you do a Broadway show. You get together with a bunch of people — you see each other at their best and their worst, you have this very intense experience with them, and then when it’s over, you say goodbye and you may not see them ever again.”
A performer from early on
Mitchell freely admits that his love affair with show business has been a fortuitous adventure.
“It kind of fell on me instead of me falling into it,” he laughed. “I was always the musician in the family.”
Mitchell followed a family tradition of sorts from an early age when he was taught by his brother John how to sing duets at age 3 and then took up the piano at age 6. Tickling the ivories was his first love; he played the piano every day “unless I was sick” until he was 18.
Mitchell’s two older brothers, George and John, were the actors in the family and took part in high school plays. Being the youngest in the family, Brian was asked as he entered junior high if he wanted to take chorus, band or drama. He opted to follow in the thespian footsteps of his graduating brothers.
“I was so tired of taking chorus and band — I was always in the pit playing trombone or piano for the shows my brothers were doing — that I thought, ‘Well, there’s no longer any fraternal competition, so let me try drama.’ I tried it and it turns out I seemed to have some sort of proclivity for it.”
And others seemed to agree. Even before graduating from high school in San Diego, Mitchell started studying at the San Diego Junior Theater, an offshoot of the city’s Old Globe professional theater company. After working with the parent company semiprofessionally, he entered a repertory company, got a coveted Equity membership card with the Actors’ Equity Association and moved to Los Angeles.
“So really, one thing led to another. I don’t think I ever made a hard decision that I was going to be an actor,” he said.
After performing and singing in the repertory company for eight months, Mitchell started getting television acting gigs, including a supporting role in the television series “Trapper John, MD.” He played Dr. Justin “Jackpot” Jackson in the series during its run from 1979 to 1986.
Wanting to try his hand as a singer and actor in another performing medium, he took to the stage at the Pasadena Playhouse in the production “Mail” that ended up in 1988 going to Broadway — his first appearance on the “Great White Way.”
Mitchell’s Broadway credits that followed included popular iconic productions “Ragtime,” “Jelly’s Last Jam,” “Kiss Me Kate,” “Man of La Mancha,” and other favorites. Along his Broadway journey, he collected numerous Tony Award nominations, including a win for best actor and the 2016 Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award for his work with the Actors Fund.
But while life as a Broadway actor has its monumental high points, it also takes over an actor’s life by virtue of the sheer hours that are devoted to a production.
“Since my son was born, I didn’t really want to be stuck doing eight shows a week performing in a Broadway play,” Mitchell mused. “It takes up a lot of your time, especially when you would normally see your kid. So that’s when I went into the concert world.”
Singing in a concert setting has given the talented performer more of his life back while at the same time giving him the opportunity to perform with top orchestras in different theaters all over the country. He’s been fortunate to work with iconic composer-conductor John Williams and conductor Keith Lockhart of the Boston Pops Orchestra over the years.
“Sometimes I do a show just with the piano, sometimes with a trio, sometimes with a jazz band. It’s always different. I can say what I want, I can sing what I want and do what I want,” Mitchell said.
And that’s what the Seattle-born entertainer will be doing at the Historic Roxy on Saturday.
While he most enjoys the concert stage setting these days, the performer freely admits his favorite venue is “wherever I can make a living — sometimes it’s television, sometimes it’s film, sometimes it’s voiceover work.”
Mitchell also has immersed himself in creating albums of his music. One of his albums, “Plays With Music,” is now being marketed. He also has three future albums brewing “in my head.”
He’s one lucky guy
The affable Mitchell is enjoying the freedom that his show-biz versatility has allowed him. But he is the first to admit that he’s one lucky guy.
“I call myself the luckiest actor in the world,” he said with a smile that telegraphed over the phone. “I never had to wait tables, pump gas, never had to do anything except perform. I understand how unusual and rare and uncommon that is for anyone to have that kind of experience in this business.
“In show business, there’s a lot of luck involved. You have to be at the right place, at the right time, with a certain talent set. I don’t know what the exact combination is, but the one thing I’m sure about is that I don’t know anybody who’s successful in show business who hasn’t worked really, really hard at it.”
And Mitchell said he’s worked hard at his craft. But the hard work has never been an issue for him.
”I love the work. For me, it’s really fun and that’s why I do it. I do it because I love doing it.”