After a long pandemic shutdown, Broadway officially reopens this week in New York City.
Wolf Trap and Signature Theatre are celebrating with “Broadway in the Park” on Friday, featuring Brian Stokes Mitchell (“Hamilton”) and Renée Elise Goldsberry (“Kiss Me Kate”).
“It’s really great that shows are starting up again,” Mitchell told WTOP. “I think we’re going to have a really great time down there. … I just love Renée Elise, I’m really looking forward to sharing a stage with her, she’s such a spectacular performer. … What we’re trying to do is connect everybody back to the happy place, back to the joy place.”
The lineup will also include Broadway performances by Christian Douglas, Rayshun LaMarr, Katie Mariko Murray, Tracy Lynn Olivera, Nova Y. Payton and Bobby Smith.
The set list includes “I Could Have Danced All Night” (“My Fair Lady”), “Tonight” (“West Side Story”), “Don’t Rain on My Parade” (“Funny Girl”), “Schuyler Sisters” (“Hamilton”), “You’ll Never Walk Alone” (“Carousel”), “Superstar” (“Jesus Christ Superstar”), “I Dreamed a Dream” (“Les Mis”) and “There’s No Business Like Show Business” (“Annie Get Your Gun”).
Born in Seattle on Halloween 1957, Mitchell was bound for a life in costumes.
“Everybody dresses up in costumes for my birthday!” Mitchell said. “I always think, the day people dress up and pretend to be other people, what else could I have done with my life?”
Due to his father’s service in the Navy, his family moved from Seattle to San Diego, but spent most of his time growing up in Guam and Philippines before moving back to San Diego at age 14.
“That’s really when I started acting,” Mitchell said. “Really delving deeply into voice lessons and everything at that age. I worked at the Globe and all the theaters in San Diego, then moved up to Los Angeles and was really lucky because I was only up there six months at a repertory company and I got into television on the first show I auditioned for called ‘Trapper John, M.D.'”
Of course, “Trapper John, M.D.” (1979-1986) was a spinoff of “M*A*S*H,” giving him a consistent TV job before eventually landing his first Broadway role in a show called “Mail” (1988).
“It started at the Pasadena Playhouse, then went to the Kennedy Center in D.C., then we took it to New York,” Mitchell said. “I ended up getting something called the Theater World Award, which to this day is maybe my favorite award. It’s given to maybe 15 people making their Broadway debut. … Marlon Brando got one. … Those of us in the community know and revere this award.”
He then did “Oh, Kay!” (1990), “Jelly’s Last Jam” (1992) and “Kiss of the Spider Woman” (1993) before his Tony nomination as Coalhouse Walker Jr. in “Ragtime” (1998).
“I left before the show actually closed,” Mitchell said. “I went to see the very last show and I wrote a long note to the cast and said, ‘It’s been a really great run. As wonderful as it’s been on Broadway, it’s great to see it now getting into the hands of the performers where it belongs: high schools, colleges and community theaters. … To this day, it’s the most magical show I’ve done.”
He won his Tony the following year for the Broadway revival of “Kiss Me, Kate” (1999).
“That was really fantastic,” Mitchell said. “You’re gonna lose more in life than you win, especially when you’re an actor. I’ve lost more roles, I’ve lost more awards, but I’m in it for the work. … Marin Mazzie was my co-star, who’s since passed away. … She’s actually the leading lady I’ve worked with the most. We’ve done five shows together, so we had a great time together and great rapport.”
He earned more Tony nominations for “King Hedley II” (2001) and “Man of La Macha” (2002), before playing the title role in “Sweeney Todd” at the Kennedy Center in D.C. in 2002.
“I call the Kennedy Center my second home actually, because I’m down there so much,” Mitchell said. “Christine Baranski was my Mrs. Lovett at a Sondheim celebration, we did eight of the shows in repertory down there. That was one of the great theatrical experiences of my life. … It was mind-blowing for a theater nerd to be in a space like that.”
In 2005, he joined Reba McEntire and Alec Baldwin for PBS’ “South Pacific” at Carnegie Hall.
“Somebody said, ‘Let’s tape this, this would be a great PBS show,'” Mitchell said. “We maybe put that show together in like five days. They’re really quickly rehearsed. … During one of the scenes, Alec Baldwin’s pages fell out all over the stage. He said, ‘Uh oh,’ and everybody laughed, but they ended up keeping it in the show because it’s a great reminder that this is a live show.”
In 2010, he joined Patti LuPone for “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.”
“I love Patti,” Mitchell said. “I remember sitting down for our first press interview. It was like listening to yourself speak. We had so much in common … she’s so dedicated to her craft, I love her spirit, I love her theatrical sense, it was like she was ‘born in the trunk’ kind of person … her hard work, dedication and raw talent. She’s just an incredible force to be on the stage with.”
All of that came grinding to a halt during the devastating pandemic of 2020 and 2021.
“Most people will see the pandemic had a two-year span when it really had a huge impact, but for people in show business, it’ll be five years,” Mitchell said. “People think Tom Cruise and Denzel Washington making a gajillion dollars, but the vast majority are gig workers going from job to job. People lost their insurance, people lost their homes, they lost their cars, their livelihoods.”
Mitchell actually serves as the board chairman of The Actors Fund, which typically gives away $2 million per year to 1,500 people in need. In the past year during the pandmic, it’s given away more than $22 million in emergency assistance to more than 16,000 people.
His biggest contribution was belting tunes out of the window of his New York apartment.
“I sang ‘The Impossible Dream’ out my window,” Mitchell said. “I was getting calls from Japan and Australia, it became international news. … I was singing in gratitude for all of the essential workers. … A neighbor stopped me on the street and said, ‘Thank you so much. I come out every night to hear you sing, I bring my wife and my two kids. It’s the one time in my day that I feel joy.”
Not since 9/11 has he seen New York City band together to overcome tragedy.
“In 9/11, Broadway closed only for about four or five days, and we thought that was terrible because it had never happened before, and here we have been closed for more than a year,” Mitchell said. “I got the key to the city of New York, the mayor presented it a couple of weeks ago because of singing out of the window. … I feel that key is for all the people helping everybody out.”