Mandy Patinkin – Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center – Philadelphia, PA – October 30, 2019
Mandy Patinkin has been working for so many years mostly as an actor that you sometimes forget what a sublime singer he can be. After all, before he became an accomplished actor on TV and the big screen – he currently is in the middle of a long stint as co-star on the popular series Homeland, and his beloved role in The Princess Bride has made him a pop-culture meme – Patinkin learned his craft in musical theater.
He was a huge success on the Great White Way – he starred in the original Broadway casts of both Evita and Sunday in the Park with George – and he still recorded music for years, but little by little his time spent on the screen overtook his time as a musical performer.
In fact, this show is the opening salvo in a 30-city tour celebrating the release of Patinkin’s latest CD Children and Art – his first new musical release since 2002. The album celebrates and reminisces on childhood using songs by the likes of Tom Waits, Randy Newman, Laurie Anderson, Rufus Wainwright and the album title track, a Stephen Sondheim tune which came from his role in Sunday in the Park with George.
The tour is a low-key affair, just Patinkin on vocals and some unobtrusive accompaniment by pianist Adam Ben-David.
However, he started out in top musical theater mode, taking on the notoriously verbose and hard-to-nail showtune “Ya Got Trouble” from The Music Man! – and he navigated the tongue-twisting lyrics with the verve of a pro. Weirdly enough, I saw his former Evita co-star Patti LuPone playing in the same exact venue several months back and she also did a stellar version of this song. They also shared another song on their setlist, but more about that later.
Next came a sepia-toned take on Randy Newman’s “Dayton, Ohio – 1903,” a sweet old-fashioned look at life in time gone by. Throughout the show Patinkin did several of these dramatic reminiscences of childhood in the past, with a just gorgeous version of Tom Waits’ “Kentucky Avenue” being one of the high points of the show.
However, the two best cover songs here were a just stunning one-man recreation of Queen’s one-song rock operetta “Bohemian Rhapsody” and a simply fabulous recreation of Harry Chapin’s bittersweet reuniting-lovers ballad “Taxi.” On this second song, as with many others, Patinkin’s skills as an actor double up on his musical ability, and he sells the song’s underlying emotional heft like nobody’s business. After the song ended, Patinkin looks up at the sky and sent a message to the late singer-songwriter – who died nearby in an auto accident on the New Jersey Turnpike in the early 1980s – saying “God bless Harry Chapin.”
It is interesting that so many of the songs delve into growing up and growing old, because at 66 years old, the singer is looking back at much of life. Patinkin good-naturedly poked fun at his time away from the theater and his age. At one point he sat on the edge of the stage and joked with the crowd that the people who have followed his career will see the true difference in his showmanship from when he was younger when he has to try to get back up.
While he somewhat avoided the really high register of his vocals through much of the show (he did no songs from Evita!), when he did finally let loose on a Yiddish song at the beginning of his encore, it was quite clear that he still had full control of his vocal instrument.
The encore also included a double shot of Sunday in the Park with George, the aforementioned “Children and Art” and a gorgeous take on the showstopper “Sunday.” Patinkin closed out with the other crossover with Patti LuPone’s setlist, Sondheim’s “Being Alive” from Company – a musical which LuPone had just finished headlining in London when I saw her. She is currently performing in the Broadway revival.
As the show was ending, Patinkin perhaps summed it all up best, using the lyrics from “Sunday.” “White, a blank page or canvas / The challenge, bring order to the whole / Through design, composition, tension, balance, light and harmony.”
35 years on from introducing that role on Broadway, Mandy Patinkin can still bring order to the whole. He bade us adieu with a wave, calling out “Have a wonderful life. God bless.” And, for one night, he added to the wonder of it.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2019 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: October 31, 2019.
Photo © 2019. Courtesy of the Kimmel Center.