Mandy Patinkin has an extensive career across a range of genres. He made his Broadway debut as Che in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita, for which he won a Tony Award. He has a long list of film credits, including the role of Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride. He won an Emmy Award in 1995 for his role as Dr Jeffrey Geiger in Chicago Hope. Today, television fans may best recognise Mandy Patinkin from his critically acclaimed portrayal of Saul Berenson in Homeland. In addition, Mandy Patinkin is a recording artist and a concert performer. As an all-round entertainer I asked him what his original dream was as a young boy.
“I don’t know if anyone’s asked me that. That’s a good question! I don’t really remember, although one dream was to not have to go to school, because I didn’t like it!” laughed Patinkin.
As he pondered my question, Patinkin reflected, “I remember actually, as a child, my father did not do work that he loved. He had to be in the family business, and it was not his dream, and I remember as a little boy thinking, ‘I’m not gonna do that. I’m gonna do something I wanna do’. I just didn’t know what it was yet.”
It was in his early teens that Mandy Patinkin discovered theatre.
“Then 13 or 14 years old, I discovered the theatre and I fell in love with it. I remember the specific moment. We were doing a musical at the Young Men’s Jewish Council Youth Centre on the southside of Chicago. I was doing this musical and we were in the same room I went to nursery school in. I had wonderful parents who talked about good things around the dinner table, and I went to the Synagogue on Friday and Saturday, and I heard the Rabbi give many meaningful sermons, but we were doing Carousel and I was playing Billy Bigelow. I didn’t have any facial hair at the time, so I had to glue on sideburns, you know, to be Billy Bigelow. The head of the production asked a question to all of us doing the play, between the ages of 14 and 18 years old. He said, ‘What’s this play about – Carousel?’”
Patinkin said the cast all gave their ideas of what Carousel was about: a guy who makes mistakes, a guy who gets a second chance and so on.
“He was a wonderful teacher and he said, ‘I think they’re all good answers. I think you’re all right, it’s about all those things, and then he said, ‘But I also think it’s about something else’. And he took a pause and he said very quietly, ‘I think it’s about if you love someone, tell them’. And that hit me like a light bulb! It just hit my heart. And I remember that moment, literally thinking, ‘My God! If this stuff called theatre has ideas like that in it, I wanna hang out in this world!’ And that’s when I decided to see if that’s what I could do in life,” explained Patinkin.
Patinkin acknowledges his parents were concerned about his career choice, but they didn’t hold him back from pursuing his dreams and instead, encouraged their talented son.
“It’s been just a wonderful, wonderful journey that I’ve had, with wonderful people and material over the years, and particularly in this moment in our lives, I’m so sorry to say, I feel our politicians have lost, to a certain degree, the art of diplomacy, both within themselves and to each other and to their fellow neighbour. We need to turn to other sources of communication and I think the arts are an incredibly helpful possibility.”
It explains why the word most often used by critics to describe Mandy Patinkin is “storyteller”.
I asked Patinkin how important it is to have roles and perform songs that convey a story.
“It’s everything to me. I’ve often said I’m just an actor who’s telling a story on stage in a concert – it just happens to be on musical notes. I was trained as an actor, that’s how I think of myself as first, even though singing is my greatest love – and not just singing, but just what you said – singing these stories,” reflected Patinkin.
Paul Ford had been Mandy Patinkin’s accompanist for over thirty years and when Ford retired, and Patinkin’s filming schedule for Homeland became intense, he took a break from singing, for around three years.
“I missed it terribly,” reflected Patinkin. “And so my dear friend Bob Hurwitz, who’s the President of Nonesuch Records, introduced me to a new piano player named Thomas Bartlett.”
During a Christmas break from Homeland, when a planned overseas trip had to be cancelled due to political unrest, (Patinkin is an ambassador for International Rescue Committee), Mandy Patinkin found himself suddenly with time and availability.
He called Thomas Bartlett and said, “I’m ready to begin this journey anew. But I have one request – if it sounds anything like what I’ve been doing for the past thirty years, I don’t wanna do it. I want it to be different.”
Mandy Patinkin had spent his career doing showtunes and some Yiddish songs. He wanted to try something new, but admits he didn’t know how to articulate what that actually was.
“On Christmas Eve he sent me 350 songs, by wonderful artists across the board. Some are very famous and familiar and people you know, and some are people you’ve never heard of yet, because they’re new,” said Patinkin.
Mandy Patinkin spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day listening to all 350 songs! He initially chose just 28 songs, then later added a few more.
“Why did I choose those 28 and what was it about those 28 that I chose? They were the nature of the words and the lyrics and the story. That’s what I listened to, not the music. I was listening for phrases that spoke to me about this moment in my life, this time in my life.”
In January they began to arrange and record the material.
“We recorded a number of them and put 10 of them together and we birthed a new series of recordings called Diary. I’m a deep admirer of Anne Frank and her diary – I’ve read it a hundred times, probably. I wanted to record the days, so the first one we called January 27 2018 and it has 10 songs and 31 minutes. People said it needs to be longer and I said no it doesn’t, it needs to be really good.”
Mandy Patinkin finished filming Homeland, returned from a trip to Uganda and then began working on more songs.
“I even took some songs out of an old drawer that I’d written myself in the late ’70s, which I’d never done for anyone before. We began April/May and we recorded another 14 songs. 56 minutes worth.”
With a new repertoire under his belt, Mandy Patinkin wanted to put together a new concert. He then felt ready to marry his old and new material.
“I needed to put a show together in a way that I liked, with different kinds of energy. Now that I’ve learned, thirty years on, I’m ready to go back and do the old stuff again. And so I married the journey that I’d spent over the past few months – to marry the old material with the new material.”
“I’m raring to go and can’t wait to start sharing it, so I feel like a little kid on Christmas who just wants to show what’s in all the boxes – all my toys!” exclaimed Patinkin.
While Mandy Patinkin knows he has a fan-base in Australia, who already know and love his work as a singer and stage performer, he admits the majority of people probably only know him from movies and television.
“I would like to invite them to any of my concerts, anywhere in the world, to please come and join us … I’d love to share this music with you and these wonderful words written by very gifted people over many years. Some very young, some very old, some not even with us anymore. They move me, these songs, and they’re food for my soul.”
MANDY PATINKIN IN CONCERT: DIARIES 2018 with Adam Ben-David on Piano
Venue: Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne
Date: Sunday 11 November
Venue: Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House
Date: Wednesday 14 November
Venue: Concert Hall, QPAC
Date: Saturday 17 November
Bookings: qpac.com.au or phone 136 246