Patinkin lets the drama unfold

Times Staff Writer

Mandy Patinkin is a one-man musical.

He finds the story in every song, and though at times his concerts might seem to jump randomly from tune to tune, he manages to spin a narrative thread that, like life, moves from yearning to fulfillment and back to fickle yearning again. Dressed in mere street clothes and relying only on his trusty piano man, Paul Ford, for assistance, he can mesmerize a huge hall into attentive silence, as he did Saturday at the Kodak Theatre, save for those inevitable moments when someone whispers a bit too loudly to a seatmate about how astonishing he sounds.

The 55-year-old's rare visit to L.A., after a six-year absence, delivered nothing new, per se. The material was plucked from his by-now-ample repertoire of Stephen Sondheim dramas-in-song, as well as standards popularized by the likes of Al Jolson and Judy Garland. Yet what was increasingly apparent was how comfortable in his skin Patinkin appears to be nowadays.

He is a prickly perfectionist, but he seems finally to trust himself and his material. He doesn't oversell, as he did in the days that earned him a spotlight parody in "Forbidden Broadway" as "Super-Frantic-Hyper-Active-Self-Indulgent-Mandy." Aside from occasional indulgences in showy, chesty, buzzing-with-vibrato fortissimos, Patinkin spent most of the concert in focused stillness, suspending notes -- softly, tenderly -- in his impossibly high, pure upper range.

So, the churning Johnny Mercer-Harry Warren tune "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe" became a peaceful scenic excursion, with Patinkin gently issuing the call, in a voice like a distant train whistle, for everyone to climb aboard. A Sondheim medley -- "Someone Is Waiting," "Johanna," "Green Finch and Linnet Bird," "Pretty Women," "Finishing the Hat" -- throbbed ever so quietly with a restless, whispering desire for things just out of reach. And, relying solely on the music of his spoken voice, Patinkin delivered the graduation speech from "Carousel" with such straightforward earnestness that audience members could be heard coughing back tears.

As is his wont -- whether abruptly disappearing from the casts of popular TV shows or bringing a seamless 1-hour, 45-minute concert to a close -- Patinkin left his audience wanting more.

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daryl.miller@latimes.com

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