Concert preview: Soloist Mandy Patinkin creates dramatic monologues from song repertoire

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 29 2012 12:00 p.m. MDT

When performing in concert, Mandy Patinkin uses the title “Dress Casual” — which comments on his performance attire but also defines the rapport he develops with audiences.

“My concert outfit is very casual, and it’s as much a statement as another performer who comes on stage in a tuxedo with a bunch of women in glitzy dresses,” he says. “I’m just trying to say that I want to have a relaxed atmosphere. I want you to feel that you’re at home and we’re all in the living room, enjoying an evening together.”

The master showman brings “Mandy Patinkin: Dress Casual, with Paul Ford on Piano” to BYU’s de Jong Concert Hall on Friday, Aug. 31, and Saturday, Sept. 1.

A celebrated star for his roles on Broadway (“Evita,” Tony Award), TV (“Chicago Hope,” Emmy Award) and film (“Yentl,” Golden Globe), Patinkin receives consistent raves for his concerts and treasures the opportunities the diverse acting arenas provide.

“They are all very, very different worlds and I can’t compare them, but they all feed each other. I find that I work at a better level when I’m doing several things at once,” he explains. “So the fact that I’m shooting ‘Homeland’ episodes for the Showtime network right now and going on the concert tour and creating new shows — I’m also developing a new concert series — gets my juices going. I’m much more productive when I’m doing more than one thing at once.”

Credited with redefining the musical-theater concert, Patinkin “gave birth” to “Dress Casual” on his off-Monday nights while performing on the same stage in “The Winter’s Tale,” at the Joseph Papp Public Theater in New York’s Greenwich Village. The unadvertised run of six shows sold out in a few hours, based on word of mouth and the overwhelming success of “Mandy Patinkin,” his debut album.

“After I finished the movie ‘Dick Tracy’ (playing Madonna’s piano player, 88 Keys), I opened ‘Dress Casual’ on Broadway at the Helen Hayes Theatre, did it for a month there and we’ve been doing the show for 25 years since. It’s not the same concert, obviously. Paul Ford and I do a different show every night. We have about 10 hours of music that we keep on rotating.”

At these first concert outings, Esquire magazine called him “the greatest singer of theater music that we have,” while the New York Times wrote that the shows were “a tour de force of high-wire emoting, comparable in its feverish intent to the most indelible records of Al Jolson, Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand.”

Rather than the “greatest hits” repertoire of popular concert vocalists or an evening replicating musical hits performed by theater singer-actors, Patinkin carefully selects classics of the American Songbook and contemporary show tunes and uses them as dramatic monologues to portray characters through the impassioned lyrics.

“I’m an actor first and a singer second,” the Juilliard graduate says. “It’s the lyric that interests me the most. Although I’ve never found a good lyric that wasn’t married to a good melody.

“I enjoy telling stories, but I’m just the mailman. These very gifted people, very much like geniuses, wrote these wonderful thoughts and wishes to be passed on from generation to generation, and I deliver the mail.”

The captivating stories Patinkin presents in song are about transformation.

“That’s what Shakespeare was all about and also Stephen Sondheim. Sondheim for me is the Shakespeare our time; he’s simply the most gifted person in the musical-theater genre. Shakespeare and Sondheim turn the dark into light,” he believes. “I think that’s what many great artists’ journey is. Their sensitivity to the human condition is heightened because they feel the pain of human nature, and they try to not alleviate that pain or ignore it; but they recognize it and simply see if they can turn those darker moments into lighter moments, to help us look at these situations as blessings and not as curses.”

The contribution Ford, Patinkin's accompanist and collaborator, makes to the concerts is “monumental," Patinkin said. "He is like the Library of Congress when it comes to this genre of music. We’ve developed our own style. We put several songs together to tell a story or take audiences on a journey that we feel these couplets of songs or several songs together relate.”

Patinkin met his stage partner during the run of “Sunday in the Park with George” on Broadway. At the few concerts Patinkin has staged without Ford, “I feel like I don’t have Ginger to dance with Fred.”

With “Dress Casual,” Patinkin’s other concerts are “Celebrating Sondheim” and “Mamaloshen,” an evening of Yiddish songs. The shows he would also like to bring to Utah are the concerts when he shares the stage with his “Evita” co-star, Patti LuPone, and opera star Nathan Gunn, who was guest artist at last year’s Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas concert.

An early visit to the state was for taping an episode of “Touched by an Angel.”

“I just fell in love with Moab where we filmed it,” he says. “I’ve been back there several times because of that experience. It’s become one of my favorite places to visit.”

If you happen upon Patinkin while in Moab, you’ll find him dressed similarly to his in-concert attire of slacks and a loose-fitting T-shirt, but swapping hiking boots for gym shoes.

If you go

What: “Mandy Patinkin: Dress Casual, with Paul Ford on Piano”

Where: BYU de Jong Concert Hall

When: Friday, Aug. 31, at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, Sept. 1, at 2 p.m.

How much: $55-$25, with discounts available to students, alumni and senior citizens

Tickets: 801-422-4322 or byuarts.com

You may have seen Mandy Patinkin in…

Mandy Patinkin is a well-known film, TV and Broadway actor. And in each medium, the characters he created spoke what have become iconic lines of dialog:

In “The Princess Bride”: “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

In “Criminal Minds”: “I don’t care if you carry a gun or not. The deadliest weapon we have is a thorough and accurate profile.”

In “Sunday in the Park with George”: “White: a blank page or canvas. His favorite — so many possibilities.”

His other credits include:

On the big screen: Detective Samuel “George” Francisco in “Alien Nation,” Alfred de Musset in “Impromptu,” Tateh in “Ragtime,” Huxley in “The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland”

On the small screen: Saul Berenson in “Homeland,” Rube Sofer in “Dead Like Me,” Quasimodo in “The Hunchback,” Hippocrates in “Hercules: Zero to Hero”

On the Broadway stage: Archibald Craven in “The Secret Garden,” Prospero in “The Tempest,” Burrs in “The Wild Party,” Player King/King Fortinbras in “Hamlet”

On CD: “Leonard Bernstein’s New York,” “Experiment,” “Oscar & Steve,” “Kidults,” “Mandy Patinkin Sings Sondheim”

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