Mandy Patinkin: One Singular Sensation
Mandy Patinkin: Dress Casual
With Paul Ford on Piano
Production Director/Lighting Design, Eric Cornwell; Sound Design, Daniel Gerhard; Associate Production Director, Gayle Jeffery; Stage Managers/Lighting Supervisors, Judith M. Daitsman, Matthew Aaron Stern, Peter Wolf
The Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts, Worcester, MA Thursday, April 30, 2009
Consider this a master class in concert performance. For one night only, the Hanover Theatre played host to Mandy Patinkin: Dress Casual with Paul Ford on piano. Everything about the show was casual, as in relaxed and unfussy, from the undecorated set to the performer's attire. Wearing a black sweater, black slacks, and athletic shoes, Mandy came out from the wings with two large floral baskets and placed them on either end of the stage. And that was all the dressing up that was needed as his voice and the music brought forth more technicolor than Joseph's coat, more sounds than a one-man band, and more highs than a Central Park love-in.
Framed by a tall red stepladder, Mandy alternately stood or pulled out a black Bentwood chair to sit Center Stage. Nearby, Paul Ford sat at the upright piano with his back to The Audience, as if they were the only two in the room, carrying on a rehearsal session. Their synergy was impeccable, evidence of two plus decades of collaborating. In addition to his amazing tinkling of the ivories, Ford got into the act with a vocal contribution on Rock Island (You Gotta Know the Territory from The Music Man) and props in Movies Were Movies for a Mack and Mabel segment which showcased Patinkin's versatility. Who knew he could mime? His ability to inhabit a character gives his vocals incredible depth and breadth. He doesn't simply sing a song; rather he tells a story - his story - using his whole body and soul. Cases in point, he brought us back to the other Depression with his proud man humbled rendition of Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?, mesmerized us as he squeezed every drop of pathos out of Harry Chapin's Taxi, and made us feel the pride and fear of the troubled Billy Bigelow in Soliloquy from Carousel.
If you're familiar with Mandy, I don't need to describe the range of his voice to you. And if you're not familiar with him, it's hard to do it justice in mere words. He has a melodic high tone that is sweet and pure, a sonorous baritone laden with emotion, and a lighter, jazzy instrument with great breath control, phrasing, and articulation that he pulls out for novelty songs like Doodle Doo Doo and Tchaikovsky. He shifted effortlessly from one voice to the other, even within one song (Bring Him Home from Les Miserables), and varied the emotional context throughout the concert, from Valjean to the Jazz Singer to Kermit the Frog.
The range of Patinkin's voice is matched by the array of songwriters he features in his program, among them Al Jolson, Simon and Garfunkel, Joe Raposo, and Broadway icons Rodgers and Hammerstein. Mandy is an accomplished interpreter of the challenging Stephen Sondheim, having been nominated for a Tony Award for his starring role in Sunday in the Park with George in 1984 and recording a collection of his works in 2002. On this night, he sang Children and Art from the latter show, as well as two songs from Merrily We Roll Along, and closed with two of my personal favorites, Sorry/Grateful and Being Alive from Company. In addition to a solid complement of show tunes, the lineup included such American classics as Red Red Robin, The Band Played On, and Take Me Out to the Ball Game (in Yiddish!). As a tribute to the prolific composer Irving Berlin, Mandy revealed his ethnic side and also sang Yiddish versions of White Christmas, Maria, and God Bless America, well-received by members of The Audience representing the concert's co-sponsor, the Jewish Federation of Central Massachusetts.
Perhaps the most succinct characterization of Patinkin is that he is a good old-fashioned showman. The dictionary defines that as "gifted entertainer - naturally talented in dramatic presentation or entertainment." His fans know him from the stage (Tony Award for Evita, The Secret Garden), films (The Princess Bride, Yentl, Dick Tracy), television (Emmy Award for Chicago Hope, Criminal Minds), and concert tours (Mamaloshen, An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin). The great thing about seeing him live in concert is that he brings all of those other components of his persona with him as part of the package. He shared some personal information, comparing his own melancholy with that of Abraham Lincoln. ("He abolished slavery, I sing show tunes - other than that, same guy!") As homage to Barack Obama ("I love our new President!") and the President's role model Lincoln, Mandy delivered The Gettysburg Address in a moving oration while Ford played God Bless America softly in the background. Followed by Paul Simon's American Tune, it was an emotionally powerful, albeit low key, political statement.
Patinkin and Ford performed for close to two hours and responded to the thunderous standing ovation with one encore. The Sammy Fain/Irving Kahal tuner I'll Be Seeing You implied a future opportunity to enjoy this fabulous duo again in another time, another place. Still, The Audience did not want to let them go, shouting for more. I couldn't agree more.
The Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts
2 Southbridge Street, Worcester, MA