By Mervyn Rothstein
21 Nov 2011
Mandy Patinkin first shared a Broadway stage with Patti LuPone in 1979 in Evita. His portrayal of Che, the narrator, won a Tony Award, as did hers of Eva Peron. In recent years, they have performed together across the country, as well as in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and they have just arrived at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in An Evening With Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin, pairing them on Broadway for the first time in 32 years.
Patinkin (born Mandel Bruce Patinkin), who will turn 59 on Nov. 30, has long been a study in intensity and talent. He was nominated for a Tony Award for his brilliant performance as Georges Seurat in Sunday in the Park With George in 1984, as well as for his role in The Wild Party in 2000. He has released several popular CDs, including specialties in Stephen Sondheim and Yiddish music, and has toured the country and appeared on Broadway with his one-man concerts. He also appeared onstage in London last year as the shah's eunuch in the musical Paradise Found, directed by Harold Prince and Susan Stroman, and this year at the Public Theater in Rinne Groff's fact-inspired play Compulsion.
The controversy came from the fact that he departed suddenly from two of those shows, "Chicago Hope" and "Criminal Minds." Now he is back in a TV series, at the same time he is on Broadway, appearing as CIA veteran Saul Berenson opposite Claire Danes in the Showtime spy thriller "Homeland."
In An Evening With Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin, the two of you could have simply alternated greatest hits. There are a couple of those, but instead you're offering a concert in which the music and the lyrics tell a story, and in which there are many duets — including songs from South Pacific, the famous "bench scene" from Carousel (with the great "If I Loved You") and selections from Merrily We Roll Along. There's also dialogue from the shows that help put the songs in context. What led you to choose to set up the concert that way?
Mandy Patinkin: Originally, about nine years ago, we were asked to open the Eisemann Center in Richardson, Texas. It was a new theatre complex, like their version of Lincoln Center. And they had called our individual bookers. They called my bookers and said they had Patti, and Patti's bookers and said they had me, and wanted us to each do 20-30 minutes of our own stuff and sing one song together, like "Getting to Know You," and say, "Goodnight, Gracie."
|photo by Martha Swope|
I hate those kinds of evenings, so I was ready to blow it off. And before I blew it off, I said to [pianist] Paul Ford, my collaborator of 24 years, "Do you think we could put together a show that told a story, that had a figurative journey, that we could have for the rest of our lives, and that we could also change, as time went on, pull this piece out, put that piece in?" And he said yes.
Patti was doing Noises Off at the time, and I went over to see her and went backstage and I told her about this, and she said, "Yeah." I told her about my idea and she said, "Go ahead, doll." And Paul and I took her entire repertoire, from every show she's ever done and all of her concert material, and all of mine, a total of probably over 30 hours of material. And after we did that we looked at the endless ocean of material, the reservoir of material that exists, and decided what we best needed to tell the story we want to tell. So some things we've done in the past, but other things we've learned just for this.
You and Patti LuPone show a great fondness onstage for each other — as you did in your New York Times interview a couple of weeks ago. Please tell me about that fondness — and does it go all the way back to Evita?
MP: Indeed it does. It's from 1979. April that year was when we began rehearsing. We needed each other desperately. We were kids. We were scared. We were in L.A. at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and we opened that dressing room door and looked in each other's eyes and we grabbed each other and we never let go. And we've been friends ever since.
We've been at each other's weddings and other events in our lives, but until Texas we hadn't had occasion to work together. Except for a benefit we did for the Second Stage Theater years ago where we did the "Waltz for Eva and Che." I played Eva and she played Che; she had the beard and I had her dress on and it was pretty hilarious. We'd always seen each other's work over the years, and then this opportunity came. So I'm so grateful to this guy from Richardson, Texas, who came up with the idea and allowed me to turn it into what I really wanted — an opportunity to create something for us to be together forever, onstage.
Why after traveling around the country for several years performing together did you decide that now's the time to take the show to Broadway?
MP: We'd done it almost everywhere but New York, and our producer Staci Levine said, "Do you want to do it in New York? And our calendars were agreeable. And it just fell into place, like overnight. So we just said, "Go."