Cabaret Review: MANDY PATINKIN IN CONCERT: BEING ALIVE (Segerstrom and on Tour)

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by Michael M. Landman-Karny on November 3, 2023

in Concerts / Events,Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional,Tours


Mandy Patinkin, a venerable artist of 71years, known for his remarkable presence on the stage, in television, and on the silver screen, graced the esteemed Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa with his latest production, Being Alive. The title, a nod to the Stephen Sondheim song from the legendary musical Company, underscores Patinkin’s deep connection to the world of musical theater.

Patinkin’s illustrious career was launched with a Tony Award-winning portrayal of Che in Evita, and he has maintained a consistent presence on Broadway, television, and in film. He has etched his mark in the theater world with his original portrayal of Georges Seurat in the Pulitzer Prize-winning Sunday in the Park with George, left an indelible impression as the iconic Inigo Montoya in movie The Princess Bride, and didn’t sing but bared his tuchis in the movie Yentl.

Patinkin has recorded several albums. He is a song stylist rather than a conventional singer. His vocal delivery possesses imperfections; a pronounced break resides squarely in the middle of his range. He delivers low notes with robust baritone chest tones, high notes with a falsetto, but tends to croak out his middle notes. As the years have passed, his entire vocal range has turned into a wobbly vibrato. Yet, despite these limitations, Patinkin masterfully employs his voice as a vehicle for storytelling. He seamlessly transitions from a resonant, 1970s ballad tone for exposition to an articulated staccato or even a fervent yell in the blink of an eye, conveying admiration, bewilderment, and fury with equal finesse.

In this performance, Patinkin departed from his often-ridiculed manic style in favor of a poignant, ballad-heavy performance, intertwined with personal anecdotes about fading memories, his own upbringing, fatherhood, and his Jewish-American identity. While he spoke of his joy in having had a happy childhood, a long and fulfilling marriage, and the successful upbringing of his now-adult children, Patinkin’s overarching fear of his own mortality remained the driving force of this concert, as he took stock of both his personal life and his remarkable fifty-plus-year career in show business.

Dressed in somber black attire, Patinkin took to a darkened stage, which was illuminated sparingly but effectively by Nathan W. Scheuer’s simple stage lighting or, on occasion, by only a ghost light.  This approach effectively directed the audience’s focus toward Patinkin and his exceptional pianist and musical director, Adam Ben-David, whose wonderful playing enhanced the sharp comedic moments provided by Patinkin, seamlessly supplemented by Daniel J. Gerhard‘s sound design. Sparingly utilized props included an oversized newspaper, a megaphone, and a ukulele.

This concert took on added significance in the context of the Israel-Gaza war and the global surge in antisemitism. Many of the evening’s performances and anecdotes had a connection to Judaism, whether through the artist’s faith, the subject matter of the scores, or linguistic reinterpretation. The iconic song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was sung partially in Yiddish, as Patinkin erroneously asserted that Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg wrote the song about their parents’ odyssey, fleeing the harrowing pogroms of Russia to seek solace in the United States. Although it remains an indubitable fact that the parents of these esteemed composers did indeed embark upon such a tumultuous journey, it is imperative to acknowledge that the veracious genesis of this lyrical opus, as elucidated by Harold Arlen himself, grew organically out of the story of the movie’s narrative.

Other selections by Jewish lyricists and composers included “Soliloquy” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, several songs by Randy Newman (including “Wandering Boy”), and, of course, Sondheim’s “Being Alive” and “Children Will Listen.”

Name dropping anecdotes included the story of how Patinkin was introduced to Stephen Sondheim by Angela Lansbury at Harold Prince’s opening night party for Evita. He told Sondheim “You’re the Guy on the Scrabble Album!” (the 1973 Sondheim Evening: A Musical Tribute) and then asked Sondheim to sing and play “Anyone Can Whistle.” Patinkin’s melancholic rendition of the song was a highlight of the evening.

Patinkin’s eclectic repertoire further featured songs like “Inch Worm,” “Time in a Bottle,” “A Tisket A Tasket,” “Rock Island” from The Music Man, Lyle Lovett’s “If I Had a Boat,” and Freddie Mercury’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The latter was transformed by Patinkin into an operatic aria, alternating between the singer’s frustration with his life and a somber acceptance of his fate.

Despite his vocal limitations, Patinkin used his voice and physical mannerisms to tell stories via song and anecdote, keeping the audience spell bound for 95 minutes. This performance presented a rare opportunity to witness an iconic artist at the zenith of his interpretive powers, even in the face of the vocal limitations brought on by the passage of time.

Mandy Patinkin in Concert: Being Alive
reviewed November 2, 2023 at Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall
tour continues; for dates and cities, visit Mandy Patinkin

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