“‘Stokes,’ that’s what everyone calls me,” says Brian Stokes Mitchell, who performs Saturday, May 26, at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center. The prevalence of his first and last names, he explains, caused him to adopt the moniker. But depending on their demographic, audiences might better know him as Dr. Justin Jackson on the television drama “Trapper John, M.D.;” as a dad of one of the central characters on “Glee;” Coalhouse Walker Jr., in the Broadway musical “Ragtime;” or Don Quixote in “Man of La Mancha,” to name a few of the roles he has played on-screen and onstage over his 40-plus-year career.
“I like to have lots of balls in the air,” says the Tony Award-winning actor and singer, back home in New York between taping episodes of the new CBS comedy “Fam” in Los Angeles. Yet, Stokes admits, it’s his concerts that he loves to do most. “It’s a cross between everything,” he says. “It’s acting — telling stories — singing and arranging music. It’s not like Broadway, doing eight shows a week. It’s never the same twice.”
While jazz bands and full symphony orchestras regularly accompany Stokes’ rich, booming baritone, the concert at the intimate East End theater features only the singer with pianist Tedd Firth. The two first collaborated more than a decade ago for Stokes’ solo debut at Carnegie Hall. “I heard him play two notes and knew immediately we would be great together,” the singer says.
Among the selections for this performance are popular songs from the album “Simply Broadway,” showstopping tunes the in-sync pair recorded — just the two of them in a studio in 2012 — and his soon-to-be-released “Plays with Music.” While known for his masterful vocal delivery, Stokes is no less lauded for the emotional and convincing portrayals of myriad romantic leads he creates onstage.
“From a very early age, I would want to blow myself into people. I wanted to know what it feels like to be them — to be that tall, or if they see colors or hear the same way I do,” says Stokes, who launched his professional career at age 16 in a production of “Godspell” at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre. “As an adult, I’ve come to realize that’s what I do for a living — to find these characters and make them part of me.”
Performing 30 to 50 concerts across the country a year, Stokes has come to realize local theater venues are points of pride for their communities. “It’s a gathering place to be with other people and where you realize,” he notes, “we are more alike than we are different.”
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WHEN/WHERE Saturday, May 26, 8 p.m., Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center, 76 Main St., Westhampton Beach
INFO $86-$136, 631-288-1500, www.whbpac.org