THE LEADING MEN: Mandy Patinkin, Back on Broadway With Patti LuPone

By Mervyn Rothstein
21 Nov 2011

Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin
photo by Brigitte Lacombe

I'd like to ask you about song choice. There are about 30; about a dozen of them are by Stephen Sondheim, and seven or so by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Why did you and Patti choose that focus?
MP: It had nothing to do with the individual artists who created the songs, in terms of our choice. I mean, God knows, I have an affinity to both of them. But the choice had to do with the lyric and the story we were trying to tell. We were looking for songs that introduced people, that had people saying hello to each other, how are you, what do you want to do with your life, do you want to try to get married, how do you stay together, what about a family, what do we do for fun, how do we entertain ourselves, and what happens after this life — where do we go? And what happens when we get old, and what happens when we're somewhere else? What are the songs and the lyrics that are about those questions?

And Paul Ford, who's like the Library of Congress when it comes to the world of musical theatre, always finds an endless array of choices for any topic we want to sing about. That, coupled with Patti's input and my input and anyone else's we talk to — friends, advisors — we end up finding the words that express the journey we want to be flying on.

You and Patti do several song medleys, for instance a group of songs from Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along, and it seems that sometimes the songs aren't complete. What drove that decision?
MP: Most of them are complete songs. We try not to do little snippets. We try to do the whole piece whenever possible. There are certain moments when we just do a little piece of something because the point is made that we're interested in making in the story, and we don't need more, so we're ready to "move on" — as Steve Sondheim and James Lapine often say.

Of course, there are songs from Evita — "Oh What a Circus" and "Don't Cry for Me Argentina." How does it feel performing those songs 32 years later? What memories do they bring back?
MP: I sit there in that chair and I watch her sing it and I feel like I'm absolutely back in time. I feel like it's a time machine, that I'm 32-33 years younger. I watch her artistry, I watch her beauty, and I pinch myself that this is happening — that I have this privilege to be here at this moment listening to this again in my life. And I can't get over it. And I try to really pay attention — and it's not a hard thing to do. I really pay attention, and I never take it for granted.

One thing you're known for is singing Yiddish songs. Why isn't there one in the concert?
MP: Well, we might throw it in as an encore on a given night here or there. There's not a good reason that there's no Yiddish song in the concert. We're actually working for ideas for "Patti-Mandy Version 2," and I'd be more than happy to take that question as a suggestion and let it go from there.

How come nothing from Sunday in the Park With George — no "Finishing the Hat," or "Move On"?
MP:We actually did do several numbers — I think at one point we were doing "Move On" together, when we did it in Richardson. And for various reasons, we replaced it with other material because of the way we wanted to tell the story. We love it, and we probably will do it at times in the future, but it just didn't work for the story we were trying to tell for this particular evening.

Paul Ford, a great musician, is your pianist — with John Beal on bass — but there's no orchestra. Why did you choose not to have more musicians on Broadway?
MP: When I first started out doing my solo concerts, about 1989, we experimented with orchestra performances. And I did a few, but I fell in love with what we did in our rehearsal studio, with just Paul and me. With the nakedness of it, and the simplicity of it, and the focus that it demanded on the material — i.e. the lyrics, the words. Because if you put that much humanity [of an orchestra] onstage, it's unavoidable, you have to pay attention to it. It changes the energy level.

With a bare stage, with just two singers and a bass player and a piano player, it's so simple that it helps you just focus on the words that these great geniuses wrote for all of us to listen to forever. And Patti and I get to be the mailman and the mailwoman.