Concert review: Mandy Patinkin wildly entertaining at BYU's 'Dress Casual' performance

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 4 2012 11:00 a.m. MDT

Mandy Patinkin performed "Dress Casual" at BYU’s de Jong Concert Hall last Friday and Saturday.

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“Mandy Patinkin: Dress Casual, with Paul Ford on Piano,” BYU de Jong Concert Hall, Aug. 31-Sept. 1

PROVO — Mandy Patinkin, the passionate master showman, brought his much-anticipated “Dress Casual” cabaret-concert to BYU’s de Jong Concert Hall last Friday and Saturday — and the capacity audiences were enraptured.

To say Patinkin throws himself body and soul into a stage performance is like saying a driver in the FIA Formula One World Championship aims for the finish line. He is a engaging raconteur, weaving parcels of songs into a vivid tapestry to share wistful or joyous but always enchanting stories.

In “Dress Casual,” the melody is just part of what comes from Pantinkin. He celebrates lyrics while displaying a voice of extraordinary range and resonance.

Opening the performance with a medley of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows,” he inserted “Why can’t we?” — in “The Wizard of Oz” song’s final line of “If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow / Why, oh why can’t I?” — to beckon his listeners to join him on his storytelling journey.

The foibles of show business was the first story he related by linking several songs into one: “The Paramount-Don’t-Want-Me Blues,” a comedic ballad surprisingly enough written for Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Boulevard”; “The Begat,” from “Finian’s Rainbow”; and “Movies Were Movies,” from Jerry Herman’s “Mack and Mabel.” Among the comic personas he took on were the Little Tramp, a love-struck suitor and a silent-cinema director with megaphone in hand.

Patinkin favors vaudeville-era and Broadway songs, and he wrings all the drama from their revealing lyrics. His selections included “The Band Played On” and Al Jolson’s “Where Did Robinson Crusoe Go (With Friday on Saturday Night)?” mixed with both vintage and contemporary show tunes: Cy Coleman-Carolyn Leigh’s “Real Live Girl” from “Little Me” and “What’ll I Do?” from Irving Berlin’s “Music Box Revue.”

And Stephen Sondheim. Patinkin feels a close attachment to Sondheim and reveals the strength of the conversational aspect of his compositions. Two of the entertaining segments were songs from “Sunday in the Park With George” (“Children and Art” / “Sunday”) and “Company” (“Sorry-Grateful” / “Being Alive”).

What is notable in a Patinkin concert is the songs he doesn’t sing: nothing from “The Secret Garden,” “Wild Party” or his Tony-winning role in “Evita.” (Although the previous day he graciously coached the two lead singers from BYU’s upcoming production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera” at a master class attended by lucky students.) And in this concert, there were no patter songs — no “Coffee in a Cardboard Cup” and no litany of composers in “Tschaikowsky (and Other Russians).”

His focus on the passion behind the music was most evident when singing “Oh Shenandoah,” “Tenting on the Old Camp Ground,” a popular song during the Civil War, combined with “Everybody’s Got the Right” and “Ballad of Booth” from “Assassins” (again, by Sondheim). And between each song he recited portions of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address for a stirring yet melancholy patriotic segment.

But his performance can boomerang back to comic. Patinkin detailed the first kiss with his wife of 34 years on a West Village street corner, after which a nearby homeless man enthused, “Ah, love! Isn’t it wonderful?” He then launched into a hilarious wedding dance segment, singing “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and “The Hokey Pokey” — in Yiddish. And he insisted that each audience member dance along.

Seeing Patinkin perform live on stage is a wholly unique — and not-to-be-missed — experience. The recommendation to dress casual is important because you’ll need to hang on tight as he takes you on a wild, entertaining roller coaster ride.

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