Patinkin’s Songs: Art in the Key of Life


To the uninitiated, Mandy Patinkin in concert must look deranged. Contortions R Us. He squeezes his eyes shut, throws his body into a leg stretch, grasps a handful of his trousers, flails his fist, scrunches up his face, screams and davens. Sometimes he sits, looking understandably exhausted. He wears a black T-shirt, gym shoes that are not new, and baggy black trousers that have not been pressed. Hey, this is art and it isn’t pretty. The only stage decoration is two small baskets of red flowers that he brings out himself. Otherwise you’re looking at a backdrop of steel cables and lights. This is Patinkin’s shtick: I give you the real thing, raw emotion.

But Patinkin in concert is not really for outsiders. If he says the next two songs are by Oscar and Steve and you don’t know who he means (Hammerstein, Sondheim), then you probably shouldn’t be there because no one’s going to explain it. This concert is for people so familiar with classic American show tunes and popular songs that they are responsive to highly personal, in-your-face, and sometimes quite brilliant, interpretations. Patinkin performs only through Sunday at the Doolittle Theatre in Hollywood.


After 17 years of musical theater (he was Che in “Evita”), seven of concertizing, not to mention his Emmy-winning work on the CBS drama “Chicago Hope,” Patinkin has his audience. He is comfortable with them, and he is very, very funny in his patter. When he brings up three audience members to help him with “Honey Bun” from “South Pacific,” he uses their personalities the way the neo-vaudevillian clown David Shiner does: as found art. This improv sequence was hilarious on Tuesday night. His choice of songs is excellent; his pairings of songs highly original. He teams Rodgers & Hammerstein’s explication of racism, “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,” with Sondheim’s “Children Will Listen” to great effect. As always, the three-way medley of “The Band Played On,” “Marie” and “Once Upon a Time” (from his first CD) is a devastating tale of love and sanity lost. “A Tisket, a Tasket” is turned into an interrogation between a notebook-toting cop and the kid who lost the basket. He performs “(Ya Got) Trouble” from “The Music Man” as a Harold Hill for the ‘90s--he stresses his own agony as he describes to the good people of River City the spiritual danger their children are in. He acts the bejesus out of “Soliloquy” from “Carousel”--that one’s a whole show in itself.


His relatively calm rendition of Harry Chapin’s “Taxi” is very good. When he gets to the line, “And she said/How are you, Harry” his pure, light tenor just soars above the song and simultaneously defines the sad heart of it. Paul Ford’s light touch on the piano is a welcome simplicity in this and every song.

The simple moments are few and far between, unless you keep your eyes closed. If you don’t like excess, bare ego or over-emoting, don’t go. The program will vary somewhat from night to night.

When Patinkin sings with his eyes closed tight, he is clearly listening to an intense inner signal, something very powerful. But make no mistake. This concert is not about what these songs make you feel. This is about what they make Mandy feel.

* “Mandy Patinkin in Concert,” UCLA/James A. Doolittle Theatre, 1615 N. Vine St., Hollywood, Tue.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. Ends Sun. $15-$55. (213) 365-3500. Running time: 2 hours, 45 mins.