Atheater is like a sacred space, as Broadway luminary Brian Stokes Mitchell suavely confides to the audience at the beginning of his one-man show "Love/Life." And, he adds, raising a set of snapping fingers and ratcheting up the seductiveness in his voice, "Who says a church can't be cool?" The Lincoln Theatre becomes one very cool church indeed with the arrival of "Love/Life" (running through Sunday), a 90-minute blast of spicy jazz numbers, jazzily scored show tunes, and knock-'em-dead leading-man charm.
As if he weren't busy enough headlining on the Great White Way ("Man of La Mancha," "Kiss Me, Kate," "Ragtime," etc.), Mitchell has racked up some expertise as a musical arranger, and he takes credit for most of the jazz settings in "Love/Life," which grew out of a cabaret act he once performed in New York.
Backed by a musical trio headed by pianist Gerard D'Angelo, Mitchell creates a vocal high-wire act out of material ranging from Cole Porter's "Love for Sale" to Ray Noble's "The Very Thought of You" to Joe Raposo's wistful "Bein' Green," the signature ballad of Kermit the Frog. (Yes, "Impossible Dream," from "Man of La Mancha," composed by Mitch Leigh, also puts in an appearance.) Sometimes the performer lets his rich baritone explode in a burst of scat singing. Sometimes he maneuvers a single syllable from a pianissimo to a pealing forte, almost daring the instrumentalists to keep up. When he gets to the verse of the Gershwins' "They Can't Take That Away From Me" that cites "the way you sing off-key," he coaxes the last note a little flat -- just enough to ensure you get the joke.
And while the show trots along at an efficient pace ("Time flies when you don't have an intermission!" Mitchell observes brightly at one point), there's ample scope for him to romance the audience -- an opportunity he exploits to the hilt. Crooning his way through the Gershwins' "Embraceable You," he lies flat on his stomach at the front of the stage, flirtatiously addressing a single spectator in the front row. (Memo to the easily embarrassed: Sit farther back.)
Other salvos of charisma have a wider target. Chatting easily as he perches on a stool or ambles, mike in hand, Mitchell reminisces about his days on the set of TV's "Trapper John, M.D.," and recounts a more recent episode when a New York cabdriver told him he sounded like an "American Idol" finalist.
A confession about his youthful enthusiasm for movie scores segues into two numbers from "My Fair Lady," with Frederick Loewe's score transformed into jazz-fantasy mode by film composer John Williams. You will never listen to Rex Harrison the same way again.
In one of his good-humored conversational riffs, Mitchell discusses the origins of "Love/Life," declaring, perhaps a little disingenuously, that he intends it to be intimate -- like a concert in his living room. You could hardly mistake the show for a cozy recital, though: The production values are too flamboyant. Floods of deep red and yellow light drench the stage for many of the numbers. And the piano-drum-bass accompaniments are equally resplendent -- a rendition of the Gershwins' "How Long Has This Been Going On?" shimmers into life with a cloud of keyboard chromatics, like a Monet painting turned into music.
But of course it's Mitchell himself who conquers the evening, which will thrill musical-theater mavens who also like jazz. Those with a weakness for Broadway celebrities will also get a rush. If "Love/Life" is a sacred space, it's a shrine to star power.
Love/Life, featuring Brian Stokes Mitchell. Through Sunday at the Lincoln Theatre, 1215 U St. NW. 202-397-SEAT or visit www.ticketmaster.com.