Mandy Patinkin brings ‘Being Alive’ to the Pittsburgh stage
“I found theater and music and thought, ‘this is pretty good,’” he said.
After the pandemic, Mandy Patinkin was looking for something that brought joy to people.
“I said, I need something really happy. I need something that makes me feel good. I want the audience to feel good,” he remembered.
The result is his newest show: “Mandy Patinkin in Concert: Being Alive.”
A Tony and Emmy Award-winning actor, Patinkin has carved out a career creating memorable roles on the stage, screen and television. He has also recorded more than a handful of CDs and regularly performs before a live audience.
The Pittsburgh CLO is bringing Patinkin’s latest show to Point Park University’s Pittsburgh Playhouse on May 4. It’s billed as a marriage of many of Patinkin’s favorite Broadway and classic American tunes, along with selections from several of his recordings.
The show, he said, creates a narrative that might not be obvious but is one people will enjoy.
“We went through tons of stuff. I said, ‘Oh, let’s start with this. I like this,’ and then I follow with a song that is not a literal response, but it has a figurative flow,” he said. “I try to tell a story that you couldn’t really explain if you had to but, at the end of the day, the story is these are the things I want to think about and talk about and share, and what I need to hear. I’m just a regular Joe, so if I need to hear it, maybe you do, too.“
When he takes the stage, Patinkin will be accompanied by Adam Ben-David on piano. The singer said he finds that pairing with only one instrument makes the performance more intimate and focused. In fact, he said he’s turned down orchestra gigs because it requires a performer to spend most of the day rehearsing for what will happen that night.
“I’d rather save my energy for the audience,” he said. “I have total flexibility with a piano player, one human being, who knows me like a book. He knows where I’m going before I do. It’s different every night because the day is different, the moment is different, the world is different, the audience is different. That’s what makes this my favorite thing to do.”
In addition to performing classics by Randy Newman, Stephen Sondheim, Harry Chapin and Rufus Wainwright, Patinkin also writes songs — but he doesn’t put himself in the same league as composers like Paul Simon and Irving Berlin.
“I have the privilege of being a mailman for these geniuses,” he said.
His passion for music made up for his lack of interest in school. It was through his synagogue, though, that Patinkin first performed as part of the boys choir. He enjoyed the attention and found something powerful in the voices.
“The bottom line is, I was in the synagogue and I heard the choir singing and the cantor singing and the congregation singing. I heard the old men cry and the cantor cry in his voice. That’s what I was looking for,” he said.
It was in high school, while singing in choir, that he was first exposed to Black gospel music.
“It rocked,” he said, recalling the words of his friend and composer William Finn who told him gospel music is the greatest music ever created.
Singing, he said, is addictive.
“It’s like anything — whether it’s chocolate or sex or love or beauty or the sunset or sunrise — you want more of it. Your brain goes, ‘Oh, that’s good, let’s do that again.’ That was what it was like when I was a little boy who heard music and wanted more,” he said.
And while the rush of performing took hold as a child, so, too, did Patinkin’s Jewish identity, which he said informs everything he does.
Performing and Judaism began coexisting early for Patinkin. When he was 15, the Jewish overnight camp he was attending staged “Fiddler on the Roof” in Hebrew.
“I cut a deal. I said, ‘Look, let me play Tevye, and I’ll do it in Hebrew. I’ll learn it all and be able to improvise. Just don’t make me go to classes in the morning.’ And they said ‘OK.’”
Theater, and by extension music, was an escape for Patinkin, who is dyslexic and learns his lines by reciting them rather than through traditional memorization. He said he knew while still in high school that performing pointed the way to his future, recalling a classmate who could explain base 10 in math.
“I knew he was going one way and I was going the other,” Patinkin said. “I found theater and music and thought, ‘this is pretty good,’” he said.
Pittsburgh CLO Executive Director Mark Fleischer said the organization is proud to partner with the Pittsburgh Playhouse “to present one of the most brilliant performers of our time.”
“Part of our mission at the Pittsburgh CLO is to bring this caliber of talent to the Pittsburgh community and, as a fan myself, couldn’t be more excited to have the star of Sondheim’s ‘Sunday in the Park with George’ singing right here in our hometown,” he said.
For his part, in his deadpan way, Patinkin urges Pittsburghers to attend the show.
“I promise your readers, if they have nothing to do, just come on down,” he said. “I promise I will do everything I can for us all to have a good time because that’s all I want and, if you’re not having a good time, feel free to leave.”
Tickets for “Being Alive” can be purchased at pittsburghclo.org. PJC
David Rullo can be reached at [email protected]