Brian Stokes Mitchell has such a golden reputation as a Broadway leading man with a baritone to die for that not all of his devotees may realize his first love is jazz.
Washington fans, who in recent years have seen him slashing in "Sweeney Todd," tilting in "Man of La Mancha" and raging in August Wilson's drama "King Hedley II," can see and hear Mitchell's jazz side at the Lincoln Theatre on Nov. 1-6. He'll perform his solo show, "Love/Life," a selection of jazz and musical theater classics, many of the latter in jazz settings.
In fact, Mitchell ("Stokes" to friends and fans) wrote all of the musical arrangements, except for "Show Me" and "I'm an Ordinary Man" from "My Fair Lady." The Lerner and Loewe tunes, he noted, are set to 40-year-old jazz charts by composer John Williams.
"My favorite music is jazz, actually. It's what I listen to, it's what I was raised on, and it's what I prefer to sing," Mitchell said from the West Coast last week as he drove to the University of Southern California to teach a master class.
When asked whether his die-hard musical theater fans would take to an evening of jazz from him, the legendarily genial performer said he believes he has achieved "a happy balance between what an audience would be happy hearing and what I would be happy doing.
"I didn't want to do anything too outside, obviously, so I do mostly standards -- 'How Long Has This Been Going On,' 'You Can't Take That Away From Me,' 'The Very Thought of You.' "
Audiences may be surprised to hear Mitchell sing "Bein' Green," Joe Raposo's anthem for Kermit the Frog, but they'll expect "The Impossible Dream" from "Man of La Mancha."
Mitchell said he even teaches it in his master class. "I love the song, and I learned that if I didn't [sing it], the audience would kill me," he said.
Mitchell said he intends to book Washington musicians -- apart from New York pianist Gerard D'Angelo -- to fill out his combo for the Lincoln gig.
They call him Will Shakspere -- roughly pronounced SHOCK-spare -- in Amy Freed's "The Beard of Avon," which Rorschach Theatre has up and running through Nov. 20 at Sanctuary Theatre (in Casa del Pueblo Methodist Church at Columbia Road and 15th Street NW).
The play imagines William Shakespeare as a bumpkin with a gift for poetry who leaves his wife to join a London theater troupe. There he becomes a bit player onstage and a "beard" offstage, lending his name -- revised to Shakespeare -- to nobility who write plays but cannot afford to be associated with lowly theater folk. Will contributes his own rhymes and speeches to their works, collaborating especially closely with Edward De Vere, the 17th earl of Oxford (a popular choice for many who think Shakespeare didn't write his own stuff).
The play is "dense" and "just hilarious," says director Jessica Burgess. "It's very playful and silly, but it's also absolutely irreverent. A lot of people think of Shakespeare as sacred, and what Amy does -- it's like how your mom told you the guy on the bus is pulling your pigtail because he likes you. . . . She's pulling on Shakespeare's proverbial pigtail, or the scholars' pigtails."
Grady Weatherford, who stars as Will (and with his shaved pate is the bard's spitting image), says he's "trying to play a man with a gift, a natural gift for poetry that he isn't really aware of." He has tried to contemporize Will's situation for his own purposes: "He's stuck in a life that he didn't plan and doesn't know where it's going . . . and he decides to go out and follow the thing that gives him happiness."
Dale Stein's Next 'Breath'
Performer and writer Dale Stein premiered her solo show with the loopy title, "A Fresh of Breath Air," at the Church Street Theatre some 12 years ago. Two runs followed at MetroStage in Alexandria, and in the past decade Stein has taken the show around the country. Her most recent stop in this region was at the Kentlands in Gaithersburg two years ago.
Now a Hagerstown resident, Stein will perform "A Fresh of Breath Air" at the Black Rock Center for the Arts in Germantown on Saturday at 8 p.m.
She was a struggling actor-writer in New York in the late 1980s and early '90s when the idea for "A Fresh of Breath Air" was ignited by a huge development built near her apartment. It swallowed up an entire neighborhood.
"They took down all the stores, all the little apartments and all the little odd people," she recalls.
She honed the piece (with the help of director Christopher Ashley) and the work grew into a kind of homage to oddness and community fellowship.
It takes place in a cafe where the hostess, Fifi, welcomes the quirky denizens (all played by Stein) of her quaint neighborhood, threatened by a soulless looming high-rise.
"I like that surreal quality of characters who are all a bit off. . . . These people are all imperfect and yet they are able to create a kind of perfect community -- based on their imperfections," Stein notes.
Rather than tiring of her signature piece, the actress says performing it gives even greater satisfaction now. "I think it's more fun because it's just no pressure. I really have fun with these characters and with the story," she says. Sometimes the characters surprise her: "I know them so well, they really can kind of stretch within the performance."
* Funeral services for educator and director Lisa Rose Middleton will take place Saturday at 11 a.m. at Shiloh Baptist Church, Ninth and P streets NW. A wake will be held at 9 a.m. Middleton, 43, died earlier this week after a three-year battle with breast cancer. She was an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, artistic adviser for that school's Black Theatre Ensemble, and also taught at the National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts. Middleton was the director of choice for award-winning Washington dramatist Caleen Sinette Jennings, staging such Jennings works as "Playing Juliet/Casting Othello," "Inns and Outs" and, most recently, co-directing "A Moment With the Xerox Man" for the Washington Women in Theater new play festival.
* Solas Nua, a new Ireland-focused theater troupe, will present "Misterman" by Enda Walsh, about an unstable man on a mission, Thursday through Nov. 20 at DC Arts Center, 2438 18th St. NW. Solas Nua did Walsh's "Disco Pigs" earlier this season. Linda Murray directs Dan Brick in the solo piece. Visit www.solasnua.org.
* Pre-Halloween bash: Georgetown Theatre Company will offer "An Evening of Morbid Poetry, Scary Prose, True Tales of Horror and Dessert" on Saturday at Grace Church, 1041 Wisconsin Ave. NW. Call 703-271-7770 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.