Are there enough superlatives to describe a live performance by Mandy Patinkin?
The supply would be depleted explaining the tremendous show Patinkin staged as part of the Brigham Young University Performing Arts Series on Aug. 31-Sept. 1 in Provo, Utah.
Broadway soloists are the most-anticipated portion of the long-standing series, produced under the direction of the university’s Jeff Martin. The capacity audiences at his two “Dress Casual” cabaret-concerts roared their delight as he took the stage and began with a medley of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows.”
As is the norm with the master showman, Patinkin wrung all the emotion out of each stanza of lyrics. He used the “Wizard of Oz” tune to invite audience members to dream along with him in the lyric “if happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow,” but replaced “Why can’t I” with “Why can’t we?”
Patinkin then launched into his “The Paramount-Don’t-Want-Me Blues” segment that also included “The Begat,” from “Finian’s Rainbow”; and “Movies Were Movies,” from Jerry Herman’s “Mack and Mabel.” The three show tunes were largely unfamiliar to the majority of the audience, but “The Paramount-Don’t-Want-Me Blues” was even a surprise to this writer. The neglected gem was written as a comedic ballad for Billy Wilder’s “Sunset Boulevard” but was discarded before it was even recorded, although it is included in some of the soundtrack albums of the movie. (Who knew a vocal interlude was considered years before Andrew Lloyd Webber bombastically musicalized the landmark film noir?)
Storytelling is always of utmost importance to Patinkin, and he revels in mashing up portions of songs — both American Songbook classics and contemporary compositions — to relate a poignant but always entertaining tale.
As Patinkin related to this writer in a phone interview prior to his BYU performance, “I’m an actor first and a singer second. 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.”
While I was familiar with Al Jolson’s “Where Did Robinson Crusoe Go (With Friday on Saturday Night)?” (after it was introduced to me by the multitalented Mike Cook at Knott’s Berry Farm’s Birdcage Theatre during its heyday when olios were presented along with melodramas), it was certainly a treat to hear it performed by Patinkin. But there was also “Tenting on the Old Camp Ground,” a popular song during the Civil War, that was great for me to hear for the first time.
Before beginning Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” he whispered to his accompanist and collaborator Paul Ford and then announced that it would be the first time that “anyone human” would hear him sing the full Freddy Mercury-penned song, since he has performed only the intro in previous concerts.
Of course, his repertoire included Sondheim. The selections by Broadway’s most heralded composer included “Everybody’s Got the Right” / “Ballad of Booth,” from “Assassins”; “Children and Art” / “Sunday,” from his Tony-nominated performance in “Sunday in the Park With George”; and “Sorry-Grateful” / “Being Alive, ” from “Company.”
It stands to reason that if you’re reading this review, you have enjoyed a live Patinkin performance more than once (as I have, whenever possible). But for the uninitiated to the bravura of his shows, be aware that you might be asked to dance along with him from your seat as he sings — in Yiddish — “The Hokey Pokey.” And it might just be combined with “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” also in Yiddish.
Photo courtesy of Newspixs