Album Review: Brian Stokes Mitchell – Simply Broadway

“Haven’t sung half the songs I want to”

Even if I hadn’t listened to a whole lot of musical theatre stars’ CDs over the past few weeks, I’d still be mightily impressed with Brian Stokes Mitchell’s second album Simply Broadway, for it really is something. Not content with just gathering together a selection of classic songs, he and his arranger Tedd Firth, who also pulls double-duty on a fine grand piano, have reimagined and reinterpreted them all.

There’s nothing simple about the piano accompaniment here though, it’s rich and complex and really brings something new to the table. Just listen to the opening track ‘Feeling Good’ and how it flows differently once released from the stomping chord progression we’re so used to, likewise Les Miserables’ ‘Stars’ finds an alternative emotional energy here, Mitchell’s dramatic storytelling coming to the fore.

He’s also canny enough to ebb and flow with such powerful music – the piano break in Sondheim’s ‘Sorry-Grateful’ is a thing of beauty, the same composer’s ‘Finishing The Hat’ is almost whispered at times. There’s an acknowledged debt to the inspiration of Tony Bennett and Bill Evans which pays huge dividends in knowing how and when to deploy such devastating intimacy – Carousel’s ‘Soliloquy’ has surely never sounded so scintillating.

It’s not all so serious either. Mitchell has much fun with a skip through ‘If I Were a Rich Man’ and he’s full of romantic yearning on the likes of ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ and ‘Some Other Time’. Thus the intensity of Simply Broadway never becomes overbearing, it is finely calibrated to take the listener on an intelligent and insightful journey through the possibilities of a piano-based take on the world of musical theatre. 

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