Broadway Gypsy Gregory Mitchell's Life To Be Celebrated April 4 in Manhattan

News   Broadway Gypsy Gregory Mitchell's Life To Be Celebrated April 4 in Manhattan Friends and colleagues will remember Broadway actor Gregory Mitchell at a celebration of his life starting 4:30 PM April 4 at the Jack Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, 566 La Guardia Place, in Manhattan.
Gregory Mitchell
Gregory Mitchell

Mitchell, regarded by pals as "the quintessential gypsy" who embodied the dedication, talent and professionalism performers who work sometimes anonymously in service of a show, died Nov. 18, 2004, after suffering a heart attack during a performance.

Appearing April 4 will be director-choreographer Graciela Daniele, with performances by Brian Stokes Mitchell, Bernadette Peters, Debra Monk, Vanessa Williams, Ann Reinking, Bebe Neuwirth and Anne Runolfsson.

Director-choreographer Daniele told Playbill.com that Mitchell indeed had the technique and discipline of a gypsy — a chorus member — but "he was more than that, I think."

She said, "He perhaps had a deeper connection with character and material than other dancers. He explored with an intricacy and a complexity. We always worked on pieces that involved dramatic acting — acting through dance. Gregg was my very favorite for that. He brought thunder and sunshine and passion and the curiosity of a child — and total commitment."

Daniele worked with Mitchell in Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Dangerous Games and Tango Appasionado. Mitchell was to figure prominently in a chapter of the new stage revue of Chita Rivera's life that begins rehearsals under Daniele in April. In a July 2004 workshop of the project, Mitchell played lovers in Rivera's life. The relationships were "illustrated by different colors and styles of tangos," Daniele said, and Rivera and Mitchell danced passionately.

Mitchell was two-time recipient of the Gypsy Robe (for Man of La Mancha and Aspects of Love), given to an ensemble member with the most Broadway credits. The robe is passed from show to show.

Actor Robert Montano, a friend since the 1980s, said Mitchell approached his work with a sense of humor and a sense of discipline, always working through the physical pain that attends every dancer's life.

"He was a true warrior," Montano said, adding that when they worked together on Kiss of the Spider Woman, Mitchell appreciated other "warriors" who didn't complain about injuries, obstacles or hard work.

Mitchell and Montano were working on the Chita Rivera project last summer while Montano's night job was Fabulation at Playwrights Horizons. Montano urged PH to bring Mitchell in to choreograph a brief tango in the play, a scene that included movement and dialogue.

The director asked Montano if he might create the movement, but Montano knew Mitchell would be a better choice.

In his final stage role, Mitchell played an angel. "It's very strange he was playing an angel," Montano said. "I now believe there are angels out there, and Gregg absolutely was one. He was a gift sent from God to touch us."

Mitchell, 52, had a heart attack Nov. 11 in mid-performance in a show at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theatre in Washington, D.C. He died a week later at Washington Hospital Center.

The Washington Post reported that Mitchell was felled in the Mikhail Baryshnikov vehicle, Forbidden Christmas, or the Doctor and the Patient, during the second of its six-performance run. The show was stopped and a doctor in the audience attended to him. He was reportedly taken to George Washington University Hospital and later transferred to Washington Hospital Center.

The rest of the tour was canceled. Choreographer Luis Perez, a longtime friend and colleague, stepped into the Kennedy Center run.

Mitchell was a Brooklyn native with varied Broadway credits over the past 20 years. He most recently appeared in the Broadway revival of Man of La Mancha, and had roles in Steel Pier, Chicago, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Man of La Mancha (1992), Aspects of Love (he was also the dance captain), Dangerous Games (he was also the fight captain), Song and Dance and Merlin.

The Post reported that Mitchell had joined the company of Forbidden Christmas six weeks earlier. The show premiered at the Guthrie Theatre earlier in 2004.

In Forbidden Christmas, an original play by the internationally acclaimed writer, director and visual artist Rezo Gabriadze, Mitchell played an angel.

Baryshnikov Dance Foundation and David Eden Productions, Ltd. called the work "part absurdist drama, part fantasy-allegory." The five-character ensemble work featured Mikhail Baryshnikov, Jon DeVries, Gregory Mitchell, Pilar Witherspoon and Yvonne Woods.

"I remembered him from his early days with the Eliot Feld company," Baryshnikov told The Washington Post. "He had a bright and lively personality, very outgoing. Then I saw him occasionally on Broadway and in commercials."

According to The Post, Mitchell was performing a scene in which his character attempts to save the Baryshnikov character, a former sailor who has thrown himself into the sea.

"I thought he had tripped. I thought it was a joke. I couldn't believe that it would happen that way," Baryshnikov told the Post.

Gary Sloan, one of his best friends, told Playbill.com, "He made everyone feel as if they were the most important person on the planet simply by the way he shook your hand and looked into your eye with a smile that let you know how great it was to see you and how fabulous you looked. He liked to let you know that he was your 'second,' someone that had your back and would be there whenever you needed him. A best friend that never left his post and was willing to go the extra mile. And there was never a conversation that didn't include how proud he was of his boys, Garrett and Chase."

In spite of Mitchell's hectic schedule between Broadway and a new design business, Sloan said "he always found a way to show up for their sports and school events. He was an amazing performer, but also a great Dad and a great friend. He inspired in me a passion for life that I would never have known without knowing him."

Survivors include sons, Garrett, 16, and Chase, 10, and their mother Cheryl. He is also survived by his parents Meg and Pat Mitchell, of Long Island, and younger brother, Scott.

To contribute to a memorial fund, visit www.mitchellmemorialfund.com.

Gregory Mitchell (in Gypsy robe) with Ernie Sabella, Mary Elizabeth Mastroantonio and Brian Stokes Mitchell, when they appeared in the revival of <i>Man of La Mancha.</i>
Gregory Mitchell (in Gypsy robe) with Ernie Sabella, Mary Elizabeth Mastroantonio and Brian Stokes Mitchell, when they appeared in the revival of Man of La Mancha. Photo by Walter McBride