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Pop Music : Patinkin: Zany but Cool at Hollywood Bowl

When we last caught Mandy Patinkin prowling around the Hollywood Bowl in a guest spot last summer, this immensely talented singing actor seemed convinced that he was Al Jolson, going over the top at the slightest excuse. One cringed at the prospect of another entire evening of this.

Thankfully, a cooler, generally calmer Mandy Patinkin turned up at the Bowl on Friday night--again clad in a T-shirt, rumpled pants and sneakers and bearing a program that roamed merrily all over American pop-song territory.

This time, the moments of madness were often channeled into loony audience participation stunts.

Patinkin invited everyone who claimed to have a birthday up to the stage apron to be serenaded by the bemused delegation from the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Pretending he was Pavlov, Patinkin decreed that the 11,332 on hand should give him a deafening ovation whenever he rang a small bell--which of course, they did (on Saturday, a reported audience of 14,809 attended).

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He also asked for gifts (as if the Bowl ticket prices weren’t enough), receiving a variety of offerings ranging from a bottle of wine to a bra.

Yet, for long stretches in between the nonsense, Patinkin demonstrated exactly why he can be one of the most genuinely affecting pop singers on the scene. Stephen Sondheim in particular probably doesn’t have a better interpreter of his songs than Patinkin, who rendered “Anyone Can Whistle” and “No More” with melting sensitivity. Even in the frenetic “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” and “Buddy’s Blues,” he caught Sondheim’s caustic humor and let us hear it with marvelously clean diction.

For better and worse, Patinkin takes nothing for granted. He can take such a quaint relic as “The Band Played On” quite seriously, singing sweetly and expressively in his quavering tenor, or turn “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” into a zany dialogue between the luckless little girl and a cop.

In “Tschaikowsky,” that diabolical Kurt Weill/Ira Gershwin list of Russian composers, Patinkin took it through at a crawling tempo at first before knocking it off again at the usual Danny Kaye tongue-twisting clip. At least we could savor the colorful names for a change.

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Some ego trips from last summer--such as “Over the Rainbow,” “Soliloquy,” “On the Atchison, Topeka & the Santa Fe,” and what seemed like the entire Jolson songbook--were repeated, but mostly with a touch of welcome restraint, relatively speaking.

Keith Lockhart led the Philharmonic efficiently through some often clever arrangements--and on one exquisite occasion, Patinkin was backed only by the tasteful piano of Paul Ford, proving that with this performer, less can be more.


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