Brian Stokes Mitchell and the writing team of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty have been in one another’s orbit ever since Mitchell originated the role of Coalhouse Walker,Jr. in their American opus Ragtime.
But their creative partnership almost started a decade earlier. In 1988, a young Mitchell had just made his Broadway debut in the musical Mail. “It lasted about five minutes, it had a very short run,” Mitchell says now with a laugh. Before he left New York for Los Angeles, his agent called him with an offer to audition for a new musical.
“I said, ‘What’s the show?’” Mitchell recalls. “‘It’s called Once On This Island.’” The show was brand new, and Ahrens and Flaherty were unknown; so Mitchell asked for the script and the music. The package script arrived, but Mitchell had trouble following the story without hearing the music, so he popped in the cassette. It was blank.
“I had to catch a plane, and so I said, ‘I’m going to take this as a sign that I’m not supposed to do this show,’” he says.
Mitchell was being called in to play Daniel, a role originated instead by Jerry Dixon, who, of course, made his own indelible imprint on the role.
“Lynn only learned this story maybe a year ago,” says Mitchell. “To this day I think, ‘Oh man!’ Because I love that show and that’s when I first fell in love with them!”
But Mitchell, Ahrens, and Flaherty were destined to work together. He received his first Tony nomination for Ragtime in 1998, which earned the duo a Tony win for Best Original Score.
“They are a huge part of career and my life,” says Mitchell of Ahrens and Flaherty. “I love them so much.”
From Ragtime to Shuffle Along: Celebrating Brian Stokes Mitchell's Greatest Stage Roles
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