Mandy Patinkin
Mandy Patinkin
In retrospect, given the events of Black Tuesday, September 11, Mandy Patinkin's incandescent solo concert at the Neil Simon Theatre on Monday, September 10, will be remembered best for its stunningly prescient encore. After receiving a thunderous standing ovation for his musical highwire act, Patinkin returned to the stage and placed two small flags--one Israeli and one Palestinian--on a stool. Standing behind those two powerful symbols, he sang "Hatikvah," the Israeli National Anthem, as the prayer that it is. Suddenly, halfway through the song, he knocked both flags to their sides as the warm white light changed in that same instant to a fiery red. The volume of Patinkin's voice jumped like a gunshot as he cut the air with "You've Got to Be Taught," Rodgers & Hammerstein's eloquent indictment of bigotry and hatred from South Pacific. Harshly and bitterly, he spit out the words of the song, stabbing the conscience of the world. Then the lighting and the performance suddenly became gentle again as Patinkin righted the flags and summed up with Stephen Sondheim's warning for the future, "Children Will Listen" from Into the Woods.

Patinkin had something to say in this show, and he said it with all the musical tools at his disposal. At first, the performance seemed like simplicity itself. The rear of the stage of the Neil Simon was stacked with props from The Music Man (presently playing there); the rest of the stage was almost bare except for an upright piano. When Patinkin made his first entrance, he brought a couple of flower baskets with him, dressing the stage by placing one basket at either end. Then it was just the incomparable Paul Ford at the piano and Patinkin singing beside him--a no-frills but so-many-thrills kind of show.

It takes a performer of Patinkin's extraordinary caliber to break rules so winningly. Anyone will tell you, for instance, that a show containing one medley after another would be deadly. Yet Patinkin carried off a parade of medleys, largely because he sang many of the songs in their entirety (or, at least, their majority) before finding a clever point of departure into the next tune. You can't fault medleys that are so smartly conceived; on that point, give Paul Ford's imaginative arrangements full credit.

This one-night-only Broadway performance was meant to promote Patinkin's new CD, Kidults, but he didn't sing nearly as much material from that album as one might have expected. The show was a generous one hour and 45 minutes in length, sans intermission, during which time Patinkin offered only seven of the album's 16 cuts. The rest of the program ranged from portions of his Mamaloshen show (e.g., "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" in Yiddish) to a delicately put together tribute to Stephen Sondheim.

The Kidults album consists not so much of songs for children as songs that reflect adults' memories of childhood. With that thought in mind, Patinkin's "Singin' in the Bathtub," a raucously joyful ode to discovering the power of music, was very much a keynote of the show. Like the "Bathtub" number, the songs from the CD that Patinkin sang at the Neil Simon were well chosen for their live performance potential. Knowing his New York audience, he couldn't lose with his ode to The Wizard of Oz--a combination of the Scarecrow's "If I Only Had a Brain," the Tin Man's "If I Only Had a Heart," and the Cowardly Lion's "If I Only Had the Nerve." (His Bert Lahr impression was particularly amusing.)

Most impressive was the fact that, with every song or medley, Patinkin evoked favorable comparisons to various icons (he suggested Danny Kaye in his rendition of "The Minute Waltz") and/or made you wish he were starring in a slew of Broadway musicals. He did the latter by performing selections from the likes of Follies ("In Buddy's Eyes," changed to "In Someone's Eyes") and The Music Man (he razzed and jazzed his way through "Trouble"). In addition to a voice of unmatchable versatility, with a lower register as deep as "Ol' Man River" and a tenor so fantastic that it can soar to "Never Never Land," Patinkin has a wonderfully natural way with lyrics. Every line of every song is thoughtfully rendered, meaningfully articulated--and, no matter how complicated the lyric, you never miss a word.

It's a shame, however, that so many people missed Mandy himself in this one-night event. Here's hoping he'll bring the show back to Broadway for an extended run.