THE LEADING MEN: Mandy Patinkin, Back on Broadway With Patti LuPone
By Mervyn Rothstein
Mandy Patinkin, starring in Broadway's An Evening With Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin, talks about the show's songlist, passion projects like Showtime's "Homeland" and his future in musical theatre.
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.
His movie career has included "Alien Nation," "Yentl" and "The Princess Bride" (as Inigo Montoya, perhaps his best-known film role). And he has had a successful if controversial (or perhaps intensely controversial) TV career, starring in the series "Chicago Hope," "Dead Like Me" and "Criminal Minds."
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
One thing you're known for is singing Yiddish songs. Why isn't there one in the concert?
How come nothing from Sunday in the Park With George — no "Finishing the Hat," or "Move On"?
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?
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.
You're back on TV at the same time as you're on Broadway. Why did you decide to return to the small screen?
I talked to Oskar Eustis [artistic director of the Public Theater], and everybody bent over backward — my agents, my lawyers, the people from Fox TV — to make all the scheduling work. I kept flying back and forth after every scene in the TV pilot to go to technical rehearsals at the Public. And we finished the pilot, and it was one of the best experiences of my life.
It's 12 episodes a year, which for the actors is five and a half months a year, which leaves me the other six and a half months a year to have my concert career, which I can't live without. I need that music to feel alive. Not just the music to feel alive. I need to hear those words. I need to be with those words. I need to be with Patti, I need to be up there with my son Gideon, who performs with me sometimes. I need to be up there with Nathan Gunn. Or Taylor Mac, who I'm working with on a new show. I need to be there with Paul Ford. It is absolutely my lifeblood. And with Patti LuPone most of all.
You've said before that doing a TV role means living through all the emotions that it brings with it, and on a spy thriller those emotions can be difficult. Has that happened this time?
They also say to me, "Do you want to know what happens, ahead of time?" And I say no, I don't want to know — just as I wouldn't know in real life. I can't wait for the next script, to turn the page and see what happens next.
That said, the way I work, I still fill it, underneath the words, with an awful lot of things that I connect to. The key word in my life is connect — to connect. And that's a word that I got from James Lapine and Steve Sondheim, from Sunday in the Park With George, where George kept saying, "Connect, George, connect." So I'm always looking for those connections. And the material is so rich, so present — it's so immediate to our lives at this moment, that there is absolutely no shortage of connection.
This is one of those moments in life where I really am trying to pinch myself, to just go like, let the sun set an hour later every day, I just don't want the days to go too fast, it's just such a wonderful time. And when you get to be 58 — I'm going to be 59 on Nov. 30 — you know that those times don't come every day, so you're a fool if you don't cherish and save them.
If the opportunity presented itself, would you want to take on another original Broadway musical?
What I'm working on right now is an original piece I'm creating with Paul Ford and [performance artist and playwright] Taylor Mac, a song cycle called The Last Two People on Earth. I call it The Mac and Mandy Show. And I'm working on another original piece of my own called Let Go that I'm going to give birth to in February. I have a week's engagement in Florida [at the Aventura Arts & Cultural Center] where I'm going to put in on the boards and start working out the kinks, although I've really been working on it a long time. It's sort of a musical photograph of a generic family — both of any generic family and the family of our country at the same time. It's a song cycle of 110 minutes. But in terms of a book musical, a new show, I'd love it. And please encourage people to get in touch with me.
If it were a revival, is there a show and role you'd be interested in doing?
A couple of years ago you played Prospero in The Tempest at Classic Stage Company. Two decades before that, you were Leontes in The Winter's Tale at the Public Theater. Before that you were Hotspur in Henry IV and Fortinbras in Hamlet. Would you like there to be more Shakespeare in your future? Any particular role?
You've mentioned in the past that Joseph Papp, your mentor, once told you that "you will always need to do both the music and the classics." Any classics other than Shakespeare?
You're turning 59 soon. Are there any personal or professional goals unattained? Is there anything else, in TV or films, or the stage, you'd like to do that you haven't done?
Merv Rothstein's work is often seen in the pages of Playbill magazine and Playbill.com. He pens the monthly A Life in the Theatre feature.
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