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In Step With—
Brian Stokes Mitchell

—By James Brady, Parade Magazine

Brady’s Bits

I asked Brian Stokes Mitchell if he’d ever done Shakespeare before. “When we moved back to San Diego from the Philippines, I was into music,” he said. “And in ninth grade I said, ‘Let me try drama.’ In Mrs. Lund’s class, our first show was The Taming of the Shrew. I was Petruchio, and I’ll never forget my first line to Katherine: ‘Good morrow, Kate, for that’s your name I hear.’ And now the same line on Broadway.” This year, Stokes left the stage to appear in TV movies with Lauren Bacall (Too Rich) and Diana Ross (Double Platinum). He’s about to record his first solo album. But when I asked which record company as releasing it, Stokes said, “I’m doing it myself. I started a Web site in ‘97, www.brianstokes.com. With consumers turning to the Internet, why do I need a recording company?”

Kiss Me, Kate, the glorious Cole Porter musical version of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, opened on Broadway 51 years ago and ran for more than 1000 performances. Alfred Drake played the male lead, a hammy Broadway actor who co-stars with his ex-wife (played by Patricia Morison) as Petruchio and Katherine in The Taming of the Shrew in the tempestuous play within a play.

Well, Kate is back. A new Broadway version opens this week starring Brian Stokes Mitchell and Marin Mazzie, both nominated for 1998 Tony Awards for their work in Ragtime. Since I’d seen the Drake-Morison show while in college, I jumped at the chance to have lunch with Mitchell.

“Call me Stokes,” he said. “It’s my mother’s maiden name, and there are too many Brian Mitchells already, including one pro football player.” I asked the big actor (he’s 6 feet l) what it was like to play the big ham in Kate.

“I don’t think he’s a ham,” Stokes corrected. “Hollywood is all about artifice and the star du jour. But if you want an actor, you go to Broadway. A stage actor must be larger than life.

“It wasn’t really a show that I wanted to do, but then I went in and sang for [director] Michael Blakemore. Then I read the script [by Sam and Bella Spewack]. I saw there’s a lot more in there. It’s a love letter to Broadway---a champagne toast.”

Is it a tough singing role? “Alfred Drake and I have the exact same range,” Stokes said, “which is fortunate. This isn’t a cheapie road-show version. Blakemore is a witty director, bringing out great sexual tension but also a battle of wits. It’s one of the things I love about theater—the intense relationships. You hate each other, you love each other, and then it’s over. It’s easy for me to say good-bye [to co-stars] without it being traumatic.”

Credit Stokes’ upbringing. “My dad was a civilian electronics engineer for the Navy,” he said. “We lived in San Diego, Guam, the Philippines, then back to San Diego. All that travel prepared me for my adult life.”

His resume says he played the White House. “I made my Carnegie Hall debut last year,” said Stokes. “Then the White House called. I was one of four singers who performed for the President and First Lady and l00 of their closest friends.”

(end of text of article but these are included):

Personal: Born Oct 31, l958 in Seattle, Wash. Married to Allyson Tucker since 1994.

Theater Includes: Godspell, 1974; Mail, 1988; Oh, Kay!, 1990; Jelly’s Last Jam, 1993; Queenie Pie, 1994; Kiss of the Spider Woman, 1994;Ragtime, 1998, Kiss me, Kate, 1999.

Films include: Ghost Dad, 1990; The Prince of Egypt (voice), 1998.

Television includes: Roots: The Next Generation, 1979; Trapper John, M.D., 1979-86; Houston Knights, 1987-88; The Master Blackmailer, 1991; Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, 1992; The Ernest Green Story, 1993; Too Rich: The Secret Life of Doris Duke, 1999; Double Platinum, 1999.

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