After you hear Brian Stokes Mitchell singing the Broadway songbook as only he can on Sunday at Bay Area Cabaret at the Fairmont, be sure to extend an early “Happy Birthday!” greeting to him, even though the actual event is not until Tuesday. Yes, Halloween.
“It was, and still is, the best day for a birthday,” he says. “It’s when people pretend to be other people and dress up in costumes. How could I have been anything but an actor?”
It’s what he’s been for nearly 40 years, starting in 1979 with seven seasons as Dr. Justin “Jackpot” Jackson in the San Francisco-based series “Trapper John, M.D.” through current series like “The Blacklist,” “Mr. Robot” and “The Good Fight.”
When “Trapper” ended in 1986, Mitchell found himself in the actor’s dilemma of being too closely identified with a role and not being offered other work.
On a lark, he landed some voiceover gigs on animated series like “Pound Puppies” and “The Further Adventures of SuperTed” and discovered a remunerative outlet for his propensity to ”make funny voices.”
It’s work he still welcomes, despite his three decades on Broadway and four Tony Award nominations (winning for a revival of “Kiss Me, Kate” in 2000). “You don’t have to worry about what you’re wearing and you don’t have to memorize lines,” he laughs.
Mitchell has a second Tony Award on his mantle. It is the 2016 Isabelle Stevenson Award, given to “an individual from the theater community who has made a substantial contribution… on behalf of one or more humanitarian, social service or charitable organizations.”
It was a token of gratitude and esteem from the Broadway community for his 14 years (and counting) as president of The Actors Fund, a social service agency that provides retirement housing, job counseling and a range of other services to actors and “everyone in entertainment” as their slogan states, from costume designers and choreographers to publicists and follow spot operators.
Among the agency’s fundraising efforts, a favorite for Stokes, his nickname to friends and colleagues, is “the Actors Fund performance” where the usual eight-shows-a-week of Broadway is stretched to a ninth performance and all involved donate their fees and proceeds.
“I go backstage to talk to the company before one of these, and almost every single time somebody pulls me aside and thanks me for the work I do with the Fund because their mother is in the Lillian Booth home, or they had a friend with a substance abuse problem, or they needed health insurance and the Fund was there for them. That moment is what keeps me coming back after all of these years.”
IF YOU GO
Brian Stokes Mitchell
Presented by Bay Area Cabaret
Where: Venetian Room, Fairmont Hotel, 950 Mason St., S.F.
When: 7 p.m. Oct. 29
Contact: (415) 392-4400, www.bayareacabaret.org