Review: ‘Brian Stokes Mitchell: Songs… I Like to Sing’

Brian Stokes Mitchell bounds into Feinstein's at the Regency with high spirits and high talent, treating the customers to one of the finest night's entertainment presently on view in Manhattan.

Brian Stokes Mitchell bounds into Feinstein’s at the Regency with high spirits and high talent, treating the customers to one of the finest night’s entertainment presently on view in Manhattan. Mitchell’s singing and acting abilities are no secret to those who have seen him onstage and in concert, but he is at his best in this perfectly assembled and performed 85 minutes.

Set starts with an exuberant “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and continues with a well-considered mix of songs from the theater, pop and cabaret worlds. Each of the 14 numbers scores, with six or so positively rocking the house. A stunning rendition of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Waters of March” leads to an exquisite take on Hoagy Carmichael’s “The Nearness of You,” after which the nitery veritably explodes with Ella Fitzgerald’s “A-Tisket, A-Tasket.” “This is sort of a feel-good time,” Mitchell can’t help but explain.

After an unexpected but stunning “Jesus, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” the star launched into a breathtaking a cappella rendition of “America the Beautiful” (including the “alabaster cities gleam” stanza). This is wedded to a powerful “Wheels of a Dream” from “Ragtime,” the combination of which literally stops the show. Other standouts include the Legrand-Bergman “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” and a heartfelt rendition of John Bucchino’s “Unexpressed.”

Mitchell is not only a consummate performer but a consummate musician as well. He outfits the act with an unlikely trio of guitar, bass and percussion. This works exceptionally well, in part because of a Hawaiian import named Jeff Peterson, who does an impressive job on four different members of the guitar family; call him the Pizzarelli of the islands. His playing stands out on “Waters of March” and “What a Wonderful World”; his solo spot — “Hiilawe,” played on the slack key guitar — is so arresting that Mitchell simply sat on the lip of the stage and listened.

The star concluded the set, inevitably enough, with “The Impossible Dream.” “To beat the unbeatable foe,” he sings, and the words never sounded more fitting or more thrilling. Whoever is booking the upcoming inauguration shindig may wish to take note: Mitchell’s “America the Beautiful”–“Wheels of a Dream”–“Impossible Dream” trifecta is the musical personification of what is taking place on Jan. 20 down along Pennsylvania Avenue.

Brian Stokes Mitchell: Songs… I Like to Sing

Feinstein's; 140 capacity; $95 top plus $40 minimum

Production

Presented inhouse.

Cast

Band: Jeff Peterson, Gary Haase, Bashiri Johnson. Opened, reviewed Nov. 11, 2008. Runs through Nov. 15.
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