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Concert Reviews:
Mandy Patinkin presents resonant, intimate show at Fisher Theatre

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

Posted: Friday, February 7, 2020

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Even on a bare stage, Mandy Patinkin knows how to create a theatrical experience.

The Tony and Emmy Award-winning entertainer's In Concert: Diaries show Thursday night, Feb. 6, at the Fisher Theatre was as much performance as concert, as Patinkin enhanced much of the 90-minute show with carefully thought-out and often subtle gestures and poses. The repertoire was a bit slapdash and random -- but fascinatingly so, ranging from "The Music Man" and "Sunday in the Park with George" to Laurie Anderson, Magnetic Fields and a one-man version of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" -- but Patinkin made the whole thing feel like an intimate encounter with a man baring a good part of his soul with the crowd.

It helps, of course, that he's, well...Mandy Patinkin. An even more forceful presence on stage without the trappings of scenery or castmates, joined only pianist Adam Ben-David, Patinkin's deep tenor was resonant, commanding and sometimes gruff, filled with emotion and voicing a distinctive understanding of each of the songs. Dressed in a work shirt and dark jeans just a few nights before his Showtime series "Homeland" begins its final season, he didn't waste a move, whether singing hard into the stage floor during "Beat Out dat Rhythm on a Drum" from "Carmen Jones" -- and falling into a chair in feigned exhaustion -- or tossing a few dance steps into "Good Thing Going."

Patinkin was happy to be audacious (evidence "Bohemian Rhapsody, after all -- rushed but fully operatic) but he was more often sweet and sentimental, reminiscing about his Chicago childhood in his own "Buckingham," singing Teitur's "To Be of Use" with a genuine sense of purpose and turning in a two-hanky rendition of Chocolate Genius' "My Mom." His technology-enhanced version of Anderson's "From the Air" led to a tender rendition of Rufus Wainwright's "Going to a Town," and Patinkin broadened the idea of the Great American Songbook to encompass not only the likes of Stephen Sondheim (several selections) and Harold Arlen (a hymn-like "Over the Rainbow") but also contemporary writers such as Harry Nilsson ("Mourning Glory"), Tom Waits ("Kentucky Avenue") and Lyle Lovett ("If I Had a Boat").

And the emotional wrench of Patinkin's "Refugees"/"Song of the Titanic" pairing during the encore, sung in Yiddish, was amplified by black-and-white videos showing the sometimes fatal travails of contemporary refugees.

When not standing or prowling, Patinkin alternated between a chair and sitting on the edge of the Fisher stage -- asking the audience early on to warn him if he was in danger of falling into the "pit of death" in front. He also re-started Harry Chapin's "Taxi" four times after the spotlight temporarily shut down but ultimately delivered an affecting performance.

Patinkin finished the night with Sondheim's "Being Alive" from the musical "Company" and its promise that "I'll always be there." He's certainly been a ubiquitous figure in the popular arts, and just having Patinkin there in front of us for one night was nothing short of a treat.

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