PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Mandy Patinkin

PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Mandy Patinkin By inviting Mandy Patinkin to sing at The Public Theater, Oskar Eustis continues in his penchant for mining the Public's past.
Mandy Patinkin
Mandy Patinkin Photo by Josh Lehrer

Since taking the reigns of the downtown institution, Eustis has hired past artistic directors Joanna Akalaitis and George C. Wolfe to direct new productions and has staged seminars about the Public's early days. Now he's arranged for Mandy Patinkin to take the The Public's Anspacher Theater (Dec. 8-21) in honor of the 20th anniversary of his first concert at The Public. It was Public Theater founder Joe Papp that first encouraged Patinkin to concertize, giving the actor a forum on his off nights from performing A Winter's Tale. Now, for two weeks beginning Dec. 8, he will present three of his concerts, Mamaloshen, Celebrating Sondheim and Dress Casual, in repertory. Patinkin talked to Playbill.com about Papp, Shakespeare and keeping three concerts in your head at once.

Playbill.com: Whose idea was this to do your three concerts in repertory at the Public Theater?
Mandy Patinkin: I think it was originally Bob Hurwitz from Nonesuch records, my record producer, or my piano player Paul Ford, or my wife Katherine Grody. I know it wasn't my idea. And there's something in me that thinks they all had the idea and I probably just, like a child, heard it at different times.

Playbill.com: Was the idea always to do it at the Public Theater?
MP: Yes. That was my wife. She said, "You know, your 20th anniversary is coming up." I said, "For what?" She said, "For when you started singing these solo concerts. It was when you were doing A Winter's Tale [at the Public]. It would be nice to do concerts at the Anspacher, where you started, as a sort of anniversary." Twenty years ago I did it as a benefit. I never took a penny. Half the money went to the Public Theater, and half went to a charity of my choice. At that time it was Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. I said I didn't want people to pay, and Joe [Papp, the founder of the New York Shakespeare Festival] said, "You have to make people pay. They won't come unless they pay." My first choice was to do these concerts the same way, but because of the economy everybody's in really rough shape, and the Public Theater is in need. So it works out perfectly. Every cent that would normally go towards me will go to the Public Theater to support their life.

Playbill.com: It's work enough to prepare for one solo concert. How do you juggle three at the same time?
MP: It's about eight hours of material that I'm re-learning, because there's a lot of stuff that I may not be using that I'm learning, too. So I'm just walking around constantly every day going through all this material. In the Dress Casual show, I'm trying not to do what I'm doing in the Sondheim or the Mamaloshen show, so that they're all different. Normally, when I'm out there singing, I mix anything up.

Playbill.com: So in the past, the Dress Casual had some songs that are in Celebrating Sondheim and Mamaloshen?
MP: Of course. I have a tremendous amount of Sondheim always in my concerts. There is Sondheim in the Dress Casual show, but nothing that's in the Celebrating Sondheim show. We've managed to put all new Sondheim in Dress Casual. I love Sondheim more than anyone. Playbill.com: You knew Joe Papp pretty well, didn't you?
MP: Very well. He was like my dad. He signed the katubah [a Jewish marriage contract] at our wedding. He was my friend. I have his tallis [prayer shawl], I have his top hat that he wore, his cane that he used in his one-man show, and I have him in my heart. He lives with me every day. He's with me in every show that I do, because he gave me some flowers on opening night, and I didn't know what to do with them. I put them in a couple of tin cans or coffee cans, I split them up. I was playing Laertes in Winter's Tale and Joe gave me my six Monday nights off to start the concert. I brought those flowers out on the first night, and there hasn't been a single concert in 20 years — I do about 50 shows a year — where I haven't had those flowers on stage with me. They're fresh flowers every night.

Playbill.com: As I recall, you performed at his memorial service, didn't you?
MP: I did. I did. I sang "Yosel, Yosel," which is the first Yiddish song he ever asked me to learn. He asked me to learn it for a benefit for the YIVO foundation. I will be doing that song at every concert, even the Sondheim.

Playbill.com: Are you going to sing it in a Sondheim sort of way? Of course, I don't really know how you would do "Yosel, Yosel" in a Sondheim sort of way.
MP: (Laughs) It would "Schmule, Schmule."

Playbill.com: You recently returned to Shakespeare in The Tempest at CSC Off-Broadway.
MP: Joe said to me after the first concerts were over, "You must always do this together: The classics and your music. You'll always need both to sustain you." I let the ball drop for too many years on doing the classics. I got a little waylaid by doing music, which I love. Now, I trying to get back to Joe's initial lesson plan.

Playbill.com: So, you're going to do more classics after this?
MP: Yes, I am. I'm talking about different plays. I love working at Classic Stage Company. My teacher and mentor Gerald Freedman, who is the dean of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, we're trying to find some plays to do together.

Stark Sands, Mandy Patinkin and Elisabeth Waterston in <i>The Tempest</i>
Stark Sands, Mandy Patinkin and Elisabeth Waterston in The Tempest Photo by Joan Marcus