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Ragtime & Stokes

Brian Stokes Mitchell will be giving his final performance as Coalhouse Walker on Sunday, December 27th. He's been with Ragtime since its inception more than two years ago in Toronto and then went on to the Los Angeles production and finally Broadway. It seems like only yesterday ...

For over a year I had seen the ads in the Sunday New York Times for Ragtime and I thought then that no musical could live up to that hype. Rather than wait for the Broadway run, I headed over to the Shubert Theatre in L.A. With a "show me" attitude, I waited for the house lights to dim. Those first few piano notes and a little boy stating, "In 1902, father built a house ..." is a memory which will endure. After that first number I looked at my theatre companion and whispered, "incredible." Ragtime had lived up to its hype.

While the entire cast was a great ensemble, it was clear to me that I was witnessing a certain actor giving a tour de force performance that comes along maybe once in a decade. So towering and so powerful was Brian Stokes Mitchell that I have returned to see his portrayal of Coalhouse Walker six times, twice in L.A. and four times on Broadway. But alas, all good things must come to an end. Stokes will move on and we'll always have the memory thanks to a brilliant cast recording on the RCA Victor label.

Allyson Tucker has also been in all three companies of Ragtime, but she will not be performing in the matinee on Sunday the 27th. Instead, she'll be seated in the theatre watching her husband give his final performance as Coalhouse. Note: Since this column was written, an added Holiday evening performance on the 27th will mark Stokes final performance.

After his end of the run, Stokes will continue to work on other projects including his solo album which his fans are clamoring for. Recently he, along with Patti Lupone, Jennifer Holiday and James Naughton, performed for the President and First Lady at the White House. One hundred of the First Family's friends also attended the event. PBS filmed it in HDTV (high definition digital format) and it will be aired sometime in 1999.

Currently, Stokes is working on a television movie called Double Platinum opposite Diana Ross and Brandy. He plays Ross' mean husband in a non-singing role and the father of Brandy. Shooting began on December 1 and the telepic is expected to be ready in time for sweeps week in May on ABC.

Anyone will tell you that doing eight performances a week in a musical is a killer. Still, in his spare time, Stokes did many charity performances in the last year and even designed a Christmas card for the BC/EFA collection along with Chita Rivera and Mandy Patinkin. You can get a set of 12 (4 each) for $20.00 and know that the money goes to a worthy cause. Stokes even found time to sing a song in the new Prince Of Egypt animated film being released by Dreamworks on Dec. 17th. The song title is "Through Heaven's Eyes" and word is that it and the film are great.

While talking to a producer at C-NET recently about Broadway and the Web, names of Broadway performers came up. As a result of that Stokes was interviewed at Sardi's Restaurant and that will be televised on TV.Com which is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 18th. The show is hosted by Ron Reagan and Nancy Formica and is syndicated nationally.

If you'd like to keep up with his career you can visit Brian Stokes Mitchell's website. He's very active on the Web and keeps his fans informed through a Newsletter put together by his assistant, Sandy.

La Belle Dame, Christina D'Angelo, will be attending the final performance on the 27th, so we'll have a full report for you, and who knows, maybe we'll snag a post-Ragtime interview. Everyone here at Talkin' Broadway feels that Stokes is part of the family and we wish him continued success.

Tidbits:

  • David Merrick, one of Broadway's greatest producers, has retired from actively producing. Merrick, best known for blockbusters like Hello Dolly and 42nd Street was active on the showbiz scene for 44 years. He turned the reins over to his business partner, Natalie Lloyd.

  • The musical Chicago will have a home at the Mandalay Bay Hotel/Casino in Las Vegas as of March 2, 1999. In an unusual move, the show will be presented in its entirety, including one 20-minute intermission. Las Vegas is known for its 90 minute trimmed shows. The chorus is in rehearsals but the leads have not been announced as of yet.

  • EFX which originally starred Michael Crawford (and now David Cassidy) is getting a face lift at the M.G.M. Grand by Tommy Tune. And while we're in Las Vegas, Brian Tidwell's new musical, A Christmas Carol, recently opened. Brian has worked with Carol Channing and was the musical director for many Broadway shows. He's also musical director for Broadway Cabaret at the San Remo Hotel which we give a huge thumbs up.

  • Despite negative reviews in Toronto, Fame - The Musical had a red hot box office and enjoyed a sold-out run. The show will open in Philadelphia on Dec. 27th. and then continue on a cross country tour to 40 cities and then head back to Toronto.

  • Matthew Broderick will hit the boards in a new thriller come next month, Night Must Fall. He plays a psychopath who carries a victim's head around in a hatbox. Now, this I gotta see to believe!

  • Tony Award winner Lea Salonga returns to Miss Saigon as of January 18th.

  • Zoe Wanamaker got brilliant reviews for her performance in Electra. I'm sure we'll see a Tony nomination for this. Better hurry though as it only runs through January 17 at the Barrymore Theatre on W. 47th.

  • So popular is the high-flying Cathy Rigby in Peter Pan that the limited-run show which closes on Jan 3rd will be coming back to Broadway in the spring.

  • Alton Fitzgerald White replaces Stokes in Ragtime and La Chanze gets to recreate the role of Sarah she did so brilliantly in the Los Angeles production. She'll be replacing Tony winner Audra McDonald.

  • Time magazine is conducing a poll on the Web for its annual Man of the Year and so far, Steve Schalchlin is in the #6 position with almost 3,000 votes. Steve, of course, is the lyricist/composer of The Last Session which is currently playing at the Tiffany Theatre in L.A. The show received great notices, but we expected that.

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