Making Yourself Heard...
by Robert Simonson, Playbill
Brian Stokes Mitchell is an impressive sounding handle—a name befitting a big, strapping man, and the actor currently bearing the title answers to the description. He’s six feet
one, athletically built, with a full head of hair—perhaps the most physically imposing leading man the musical theatre has seen since the days of John Raitt and Alfred Drake. And to cap it all off, he has
the almost comically handsome looks of a matinee idol.
Mitchell shares something else with Drake (and John Barrymore and Kevin Kline, to name a couple other past Broadway idols) besides stature. It is a quality in small supply in the vain,
insecure profession known as acting: the ability to mock one’s dashing appearance. Mitchell’s talent for self-deprecation was perhaps first seen in his performance as vainglorious record mogul John Henry
Wheeler in the recent Encores! concert revival of the Styne-Comden-Green musical, Do Re Mi. Dressed in stark whites, reds and blacks, Mitchell’s Wheeler sang “I Know About Love” as if he was
one of the jukebox balladeers he pushes. Striking poses and blowing melodramatic clouds of smoke with his cigarette, his voice dripping with self-created drama, Mitchell made comic hay out of what is only a lightly
Theatregoers who saw his Wheeler knew Mitchell was suited for a big, hammy part like Kiss Me, Kate’s actor-manager Fred Graham. Another show-biz type whose true feelings lie beneath
layers of charm and ego, Graham is a capable man who is entirely capable of being rendered a fool. In the role, Mitchell must let his pretty face be squeezed by gangsters, have his manly frame doubled over by a
woman’s punch. You know he is in the spirit of things when he first enters Graham’s dressing room and starts putting his beauty to the mirror’s test, pulling grimace after grimace in the glass.
Surely Mitchell (or any actor) does this himself in his own dressing room, but he’s not above making sport of his profession.
Anyone with his acting ability, commanding presence and luxurious baritone voice, can afford to look a little silly. After all, who’s going to poke fun at a big guy like that, if not