For Brian Stokes Mitchell, music can be an act of gratitude

Aug 11, 2020

Brian Stokes Mitchell

After he recovered from COVID-19 this spring, Brian Stokes Mitchell sang "The Impossible Dream" out the window of his New York home every night at 7 o'clock.

But it wasn't a performance, he says. Instead, it was "a song of gratitude for the essential workers." That's why he didn't sing any other songs. To him, "The Impossible Dream" most accurately captured the experiences of the doctors, nurses and other first responders who were hard at work during the pandemic.

Mitchell is a Tony Award-winning Broadway star who has also appeared in a number of live-action and animated television shows, including "Trapper John, M.D.," "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," "Frasier" and "Mr. Robot." He says he feels like "the luckiest actor in the world" because he's gotten to explore so many different kinds of roles.

Live concerts are his favorite type of performance these days, Mitchell says, because he gets to design a show for the geographic area, the time and the context. 

Mitchell arranged, orchestrated and produced many of the tracks on his latest album "Plays with Music." He sang every part on all of the songs, and in one track, "By Myself," he also performed all of the instrumental parts. 

He's been actively involved in shaping the music he performs for his entire career. Mitchell made some changes to "The Impossible Dream" when he sang it during a 2002-03 Broadway run of "Man of La Mancha."

He added a modulation to a second, higher key during the final chorus, and he also chose to end the song on a higher note than what composer Mitch Leigh had written. After Leigh heard Mitchell's changes, he said he approved of the modulation but not of the higher ending note. After some thought, Mitchell went back to the original, lower ending note. 

Mitchell recently joined Classical IPR for a conversation and some recordings of his music, including the "higher note" ending of "The Impossible Dream" and some selections from his new album. 

Mitchell also discussed Black Theater United, a project he and several Black theater colleagues including Audra McDonald, Phylicia Rashad and Billy Porter recently came together to form. He explained that the organization wants to help facilitate conversations and actions on both the macro and micro levels.

He also revealed which role would get him to return to the Broadway stage (hint: it involves the best pies in London), and why he wasn't able to continue his role as Cam Winston on "Frasier."

Mitchell will appear this weekend at the Great Lakes Center for the Arts in Bay Harbor.