BWW Interviews: SOPAC Benefit with Mandy Patinkin
Mandy Patinkin is a Tony and Emmy Award winning actor. He has a list of stage, film and television credits that could take up this entire article (and is back to work now filming the third season of the Showtime hit HOMELAND). But in the midst of all of this, he returns to his love of standing on a stage, performing concerts and connecting with his audience in a meaningful and fulfilling way. He will be doing that in New Jersey on June 22 at the South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC) where audiences can get to the know the man behind the actor. I was lucky to get to talk to him about his concert and career.
BWW: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me about your upcoming concert at SOPAC.
Mandy Patinkin: Thank you for writing it.
BWW: I actually saw you in DRESS CASUAL on Broadway in the summer of 1989.
MP: We've been at this show for 25 years.
BWW: Amazing. I'll gush and tell you I was sitting on the front row at the Helen Hayes and when you asked people to go nuts with applause and adoration, I actually jumped up on the stage and worshiped at your feet - you took out a pad, signed your autograph and told me to take it to the box office to get 5 bucks back on my ticket - a cherished moment for a young twenty something in NYC.
MP: Thanks for playing along. Doing this concert is one of my great joys in life.
BWW: You share so much incredible music and stories in your concerts - one can tell you are passionate about what you speak. How has the show changed over time?
MP: It's a collaboration between me and Paul Ford at the piano. Just a bare stage and us. I have 12 hours of material to choose from at this point. We're always working on new material from these geniuses who have written their thoughts into song - I'm just their mailman to deliver the work to audiences.
BWW: How important is it for you to continue to do your concert tours across the country; sharing music and stories important to you?
MP: I think of the Buddhist phrase my brother taught me 'Our actions are the ground we walk on'. These ideas/songs/thoughts/stories are my life blood and are very comforting to me. If I'm away from them too long, my life is bereft.
BWW: That's powerful to place so much emphasis and importance on these songs from your past.
MP: Oh, I never grew up with this material; people brought it me along the way.
BWW: Wow! We would assume the singer Mandy Patinkin would have known it all from childhood.
MP: I grew up in Synagogue in the boy's choir. We didn't listen to music in the house; only at temple. Then I went to a mostly African American high school on the South Side of Chicago and joined a gospel choir.
BWW: An amazing history that made you who you are today as a performer.
MP: These American Songwriters - Hammerstein, Gershwin, many had ancestors that were cantors and a lot of that is in their music.
BWW: Yes, I caught that wonderful PBS documentary on Jewish Legacy.
MP: They used so much of that in their work. Are you Jewish?
BWW: No. I played ½ Jewish Whizzer in FALSETTOS.
MP: Well when you go to the Torah to read - you sing a prayer (my own personal concert as Mr. Patinkin sings it for me) That is the same tune as "It Ain't Necessarily So" - Gershwin used it.
BWW: Wonderful! You are such a multi-talented performer from stage to TV to film, do you find that people are surprised when they know you from one medium like the amazing show HOMELAND and discover your talent in another?
MP: They are a little shocked. Some think it may not be plausible that Saul Berenson or Inigo Montoya sings! But I actually don't think in those terms when it comes to the concerts.
BWW: You can separate your concert life from your other work?
MP: Music is my balance...center of my life. The other is all more commercial and reaches many more people, but the concerts are personal and private. Sometimes there may be 1,000 or 300 people in the crowd and it is so intimate. It is where these words of the people I perform - they live on.
BWW: What got a boy from Chicago to move to New York (and land one of the biggest roles at the time of Ché in EVITA)?
MP: I moved to New York to go to Julliard Drama School. Didn't sing a single note of music. I was doing plays with Joe Papp and my agent spoke to the casting director of Hal Prince and said there was an audition for me to go to. I didn't think I could get out of rehearsal for the play I was doing and had no idea what I was auditioning for, but I went. Didn't know the part of Ché, but when they offered it to me I asked who was playing the lead. They said Patti LuPone and I took it based on her. I knew her from my days at Julliard as I was an usher along with Bill Hurt for The Acting Company that produced shows next to Julliard and she performed there.
BWW: You had such a varied career in the 80s going back and forth between Hollywood and Broadway with perennial favorites like The Princess Bride & Yentl (while I still believe Maxie would have made a good musical and The House on Carroll Street was such a great thriller) and back to Broadway with the ultimate SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE. Was that a crazy time for you or were you simply happy to be a working actor in such high demand?
MP: I loved it! It was a great privilege to get to do that as I was trained as an actor. I didn't think of myself as a singer. I'm an actor who recites words and sometimes that happens to be on musical notes.
BWW: I have read it takes a toll on your personal life being away from the family. People don't often think about what that does to an actor's life. Can you speak on that a little?
MP: It is a business where you juggle family and work throughout all of your life. That is something that is wonderful about the concert business (which I never even set out to do) - I can list when I have school events or holidays and times I'm not available and book concerts around those. In theater and film, you can't do that.
BWW: Speaking of juggling, besides touring in this concert and your TV show, you have a few other projects in the works - correct?
BWW: I moved to NYC in the late 80s and have been privileged to see you in THE SECRET GARDEN, FALSETTOS, THE WILD PARTY - all such amazing and different work. I especially loved your take on FALSETTOS. What drew you to that?
BWW: Way before what we are seeing now in the LGBT community and equality.
MP: FALSETTOS really stood out there in theater showing how we are all the same. "If you prick us - do we not bleed?" Read THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, the same lines apply.
BWW: You've done many loved television shows, but a favorite of mine was DEAD LIKE ME. Do you feel it's all about the timing with TV shows on why some take off and others don't?
MP: It is show business. That show had a great following, but died off just as a new network executive was coming in. These guys all get only so much money to do a job - all looking for the next SOPRANOS in cable TV and can only spend so much on a show. If it's not working, they have to cut it and then take a gamble on something else. But what is great now is that Netflix and other stations are rebroadcasting shows and asking for new ones. You mentioned LUCKY STIFF is happening there in your theater you manage. Once it closes does that mean no one should see it again? No. It will be produced somewhere else. Theater has been doing this forever - TV is catching up.
MP: Yes. So excited about it!
BWW: I hear you're playing his father another Saul...like HOMELAND.
MP: The name will be changed.
BWW: (Laughing) we don't want to confuse your audiences. It's been great talking to you and I can tell SOPAC audiences they are in for some great story telling when they attend DRESS CASUAL on June 22.
MP: Thanks for talking to me.
BWW: Mandy Patinkin will do the one night only concert at SOPAC on Saturday, June 22 at 8:00 pm. For complete ticket information visit, http://www.sopacnow.org/575/mandy-patinkin-dress-casual.
From This Author Gregory G. Allen