Saturday, April 20, 2024

Being Alive: Mandy Patinkin in Concert at the Ordway Center's Concert Hall

I've been wanting to see Mandy Patinkin, legend of stage and screen, perform live for years. But experiencing his "Being Alive" concert last night in the Ordway's Concert Hall was beyond anything I could have imagined. This wasn't just Mandy singing his greatest hits, which would have been amazing, this was Mandy telling stories, inhabiting characters, and sharing his soul, in the way that only he can. There truly is no one else like Mandy Patinkin - that wholly unique voice (the gruff gravely speaking voice that turns into something else when singing), that charmingly impish humor, that passion for everything he does. He's pure magic. He's a national treasure. If you have the opportunity to see him live in anything anywhere - take it. There are a very few remaining tickets for his second show on Sunday - snag them while you can.

I don't even remember when I first started to love Mandy. Since I was a TV addict before I was a theater addict, it was probably from Chicago Hope, or Homeland, or even earlier as Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride. It was only later I became aware of his incredible theater career - Evita, Sunday in the Park with George, and Falsettos just to name a few. There aren't a lot of actors who have great success in film and on stage, and can go seamlessly back and forth between them, but Mandy is one of them. For this show, Mandy and his accompanist/music director/props master Adam Ben-David have put together a seemingly random collection of songs and stories that somehow come together at the end and very much celebrate this thing called "being alive."

I actually did not recognize as many of the songs as I thought (no Sunday in the Park). He did a lot of medleys that started in one place, and ended up someplace else. Some of them were very active, like the delightful ode to silent films that had him running around the stage, imitating Charlie Chaplin and others, after which he took a rest at the piano as he mopped his sweating face with a towel (black, to match his wardrobe). For others, he sat in a chair and simply told the story with his voice and his face. Because all of these songs were stories, some silly and funny, others touching and poignant, sometimes one when you'd expect the other.

In the middle of the show, he asked us permission to tell a few stories. Yes, please! Like his medleys, the story meandered from one seemingly random place to the next (beginning with his literal birth), and somehow came together at the end in the most satisfying way (accepting a Tony in the theater where he and his since deceased father had seen their first Broadway show, meeting his father's favorite Angela Lansbury the same time he met future collaborator Stephen Sondheim). The show concluded with some more familiar songs from the musical theater canon - Sondheim's "Anyone Can Whistle" (making me understand that song in a way I never have), a medley of "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught" and "Children Will Listen" that felt like a prescient warning, and a Company medley of "Sorry-Grateful" and "Being Alive" (natch).

For his encore (because this sold-out audience was not going to let him get away without one), he sang a very familiar song, "Over the Rainbow," but in a new and revelatory way. He sang most of it in Yiddish, to honor the heritage of the writers Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg, children of Jewish immigrants, as well as his own heritage. It was incredibly moving and insightful, and a perfect way to end this evening that was so very Mandy.

Visit the Ordway's website for upcoming concerts and shows, including the return of SIX this summer, along with the moving and necessary musical about ordinary people in extraordinary times, Come from Away.