On an ordinary Sunday, Melbourne theatregoers were treated to the extraordinary talent Broadway legend Mandy Patinkin.
Perhaps helped by his recent television fame, Patinkin attracted a very large house of assorted fans to Melbourne’s Hamer Hall. Even more so than in his previous visits, Patinkin turned the capacious venue into an intimate cabaret lounge, holding the crowd in his thrall for an uninterrupted 100 minutes of fascinating music.
Speaking candidly, Patinkin described the block he experienced a few short years ago, when he found himself unable to learn new material. Busy in television but missing singing, he sought out new collaborators, and was led by his record company to Thomas Bartlett. Whittling down the 350 songs Bartlett uncovered to a mere 28, Patinkin trusted Bartlett’s different way of working, and the partnership has resulted in two new albums this year: Diary: January 27 2018 and Diary: April/May.
Following the retirement of Paul Ford, Patinkin’s longtime musical director / accompanist, Patinkin is accompanied on this tour by Adam Ben-David on grand piano. Ben-David proves a marvel at bringing out the essence of an eclectic range of musical styles, all played ever so supportively with the lightest touch.
On a simple stage with just a ghost light and a bentwood chair, Patinkin conjured a world of musical storytelling with his exquisite gift for compelling vocal expression. Patinkin’s trademark falsetto remains supple and sweet, while his lower register has taken on a slightly more sonorous depth with time. Given the number of unfamiliar songs unearthed this past year by Patinkin, this concert is far from a greatest hits celebration. In appreciating the new work, there is little for the audience to do but sit back and marvel at Patinkin’s mighty gifts.
This is not to say that there are not some crowd-pleasing choices along the way. Patinkin had the audience had the audience chiming in as the flustered townsfolk of River City, Iowa in opening number “Trouble” (The Music Man). Popular music choices included Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” and an incredible full length rendition of Queen’s epic “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
For Stephen Sondheim aficionados, Patinkin began with the relatively obscure “If You Can Find Me I’m Here” (Evening Primrose), followed later by the bittersweet optimism of “Good Thing Going” (Merrily We Roll Along). A frantic performance of all three roles in Company’s “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” was later followed by the matched pair of “Sorry/Grateful” and “Being Alive” from that same show. One more Sondheim pair came from one of Patinkin’s great Broadway hits, Sunday in the Park with George, from which he sang Marie’s reminiscence “Children and Art,” followed by the stirring classic “Sunday.”
In this first date of the current Australian tour, Patinkin was caught off guard by the strong reaction to the opening lyrics of “A Few Words in Defense of Our Country,” which caused the star to have to pause to catch his breath from unexpected laughter. Written by Randy Newman in 2008, the song is more relevant than ever today. The current state of his homeland also required Patinkin to consult with songwriter Rufus Wainwright about expression of the word “America” in Wainwright’s 2007 song “Going to a Town.”
Breaking up the format, two songs were accompanied by projected video imagery. Laurie Anderson’s “From the Air” was performed along with eerie black and white historical images. A final clip made a powerful statement by showing Jewish immigrants to New York along with images of present day refugees arriving in boats.
Thought provoking, challenging and involving, Mandy Patinkin in Concert: Diaries 2018 is a richly rewarding journey.
Mandy Patinkin in Concert: Diaries 2018 played at Hamer Hall, Arts Centre Melbourne 8pm Sunday 11 November 2018.
Mandy Patinkin in Concert: Diaries 2018 plays in Sydney 14 November 2018 and Brisbane 17 November 2018.
Photos: Darrell Hoemann